Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Violin Concerto in B minor, op.61 (1910) [50:14]
Alternative Cadenza for the Violin Concerto (1910-1916) [6:17]
Interlude from The Crown of India, op.66 (1912) [3:44]
Polonia, op.76 (1915) [14:15]
Tasmin Little (violin)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis
rec. 24-26 May 2010, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow. DDD
CHANDOS CHSA 5083 [74:52]
As 2010 sees the centenary of the première of Elgar’s Violin Concerto, it is only right and fitting that we should have a new recording, and one made by one of today’s major artists and beloved personalities. And there is probably nobody better suited, or more attuned, to Elgar’s style than Sir Andrew Davis, who, over the years of his tenure as Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, grew in stature as an Elgar interpreter and is now an Elgarian of some authority. So all bodes well for this new recording.
Sir Andrew delivers a fine opening tutti, strong and purposeful, allowing the music to speak, displaying a superb handling of the transition to the second theme, and then carefully prepares for the entrance of the soloist. Ms Little’s entry is resolute but not overplayed, but here I am immediately faced with a problem which worried me throughout the performance. In the passagework, and sections of bravura writing, Ms Little is superb, throwing caution to the wind and really letting go, relishing the challenge to show her fabulous technique, but always in the service of the music. In slower music, however, such as her initial entry and in much of the slow movement she employs a very fast vibrato which I find annoying and which grates on my ear - I should say that it will not bother many people, but, as with singers, I find this approach to the detriment of the music. The line feels to be unclear - a good example of this comes at 4:22 in the slow movement, where a more direct approach would have been welcome. After a while it just sounds fussy, and it annoys me in the same way as someone who giggles every time after making a comment.
Having said all that, I must point out that this is purely my feeling concerning interpretation and performance and not everyone, especially Ms Little’s many fans, will agree with me. I am sure that what I see as the overuse of vibrato won’t bother the majority of people who buy this disk. But I mention it for it is very important and in a work of this length there’s a lot of it!
I do feel that Chandos should have reconsidered calling what follows an Alternative Cadenza for the Violin Concerto for it is nothing of the sort. Elgar was one of the first composers to realise the importance of recording his own music and was a willing visitor to the recording studios from 1913 onwards. In 1916 he undertook a recording of the Violin Concerto with Marie Hall, whom he had taught in the 1890s, and, because of the playing time of the discs, and the length of the Concerto, he cut it down to 12 minutes, with each movement occupying one side of a 78rpm disc and the cadenza allotted a side all to itself. Realising that the “thrummed” accompaniment he had created would be almost inaudible on the primitive record he rewrote it adding a harp. Thus, this version was born of necessity and was never intended as an alternative to the cadenza in the Concerto, nor was it intended to be used more than on this single occasion. This truth is proven by the fact that the materials used in 1916 no longer exist, and it has had to be reconstructed by listening to the recording and writing it down afresh. Does it add anything to our knowledge of the work? No. Should it be on this disk? It’s unnecessary, but it makes an interesting sidelight on Elgar’s ingenuity and professionalism.
The Interlude from The Crown of India music is an unpretentious miniature for violin and small orchestra, and it’s very pleasant. Polonia is a meatier piece. Based on Polish themes, it was written for a concert for the Polish Victims Relief Fund, and it’s an occasional piece but not a particularly significant work. Its virtues lie in the fact that it is entertaining, fun and shows Elgar’s sure hand as an orchestrator. This is a very high powered account of the music and it is very exciting. A rather subtler account was issued with the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra under Andrzej Panufnik from a live performance of September 1978, coupled with a splendid live 1986 performance of the Violin Concerto by Ida Haendel and John Pritchard, on a long deleted BBC Carlton Classics disk, which is well worth seeking out (15656 91942).
Throughout, Sir Andrew draws fine playing from the Scottish Orchestra and their contribution is most satisfying. The recording is stunning in its clarity and brightness, and the notes are full and informative. Despite my personal reservations concerning Ms Little’s use of vibrato, there is no doubt in my mind that this recording will give pleasure to many, but it doesn’t add anything to our understanding of the work.