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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Violin Concerto in B minor Op. 61 [45.36]
Cello Concerto in E minor Op.85 [27:36]
Alfredo Campoli (violin)
Pablo Casals (cello)
London Philharmonic Orchestra (violin) BBC Symphony Orchestra (cello)/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. 1945 (Cello); 28-29 October 1954, Kingsway Hall (Violin)

These two famous recordings have been recycled many times over the years. From that fact alone one could readily conclude that they are classic interpretations that have stood the test time. I enjoyed listening to them both once again.
Campoli was a superb violinist and his recordings of the Bliss, Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn concertos are all wonderful examples of his artistry. His Elgar is in the same class. There the usual Campoli fingerprints - technical assurance allied to a beautiful, silky singing tone and a romantic approach to the music. He has an instinctive feel for Elgar’s flexibility of phrase and Boult offers fine support. It’s not the usual noble, reined-in Boult on show here. The conductor is drawn into Campoli’s romantic approach and the partnership suits the concerto very well. Strangely enough the, admittedly dated, Decca mono sound is a very satisfying production in terms of orchestral balance and it is in many ways preferable to some of the stereo recordings available. The soloist is the dominant player in the sound picture but the expert balance of the orchestra allows every strand to be heard. In the opening movement, Campoli’s treatment of the ‘Windflower theme’ is just right - it can often be pulled around to death and be made to sound too maudlin. It’s a shame about the patch of noise on the transfer just after this passage where there is a series of audible thumps, maybe the remains of a deep scratch or a dimple on the pressing. Otherwise the Heritage transfer is clean and detailed. It’s a bit papery in the treble but that’s what these old Deccas sounded like, to be honest. I find the first movement totally compelling, especially the central climax and forward thrust of those thrilling final bars. The slow movement is allowed to play itself. Campoli doesn’t go over the top. He never becomes tasteless but plays with real romance and assurance. It’s a great performance. The finale is excellent with a breath-taking central cadenza. The only complaint arises at the very end of the work where there seems to be a lack of adrenalin rush. The concerto should erupt into a glorious, triumphant burst of energy. That simply doesn’t happen here. It’s a bit of a damp squib. Despite this reservation about the final bars it’s still a version that remains high on the list.
I can’t be quite as enthusiastic about the Casals recording of the Cello Concerto. It’s from the 78s era and it does sound its age. It’s not unbearable but the sound is forward and tonally rather basic. Heritage has done its best with the transfer but it sound pretty ancient now. What really spoils it for me is the obvious and very loud grunting from Casals. Others might be OK with this but I find it to be ruinous. There is also one obvious flaw on the CD where there is a two second gap of total silence between the first and second movements. The Casals approach is all about flexibility, taking a few liberties with the score and playing the piece at generally slow tempi. All the ritards and accelerandi are played to their fullest extent and the slow movement — grunts and all — is delivered with great emotion. The scherzo and finale aren’t technically perfect but this recording was made in the days when editing didn’t exist. What we have is a soloist in full flight playing the Elgar concerto in a very romantic fashion. It’s not really for me but I fully understand why others rate it so highly. Either way it’s a worthy coupling for Campoli’s wonderful recording.

John Whitmore

Masterwork Index: Cello concerto ~~ Violin concerto


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