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Haydn WOOD (1882-1959)
Violin Concerto in A minor (1928) [26:56]
Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR (1875-1912)
Violin Concerto in G minor (1912) [31:52]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Suite for violin and orchestra (c.1888-1891) [18:35]
Tasmin Little (violin)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Davis
rec. May 2015, MediaCity UK, Salford
CHANDOS CHAN10879 [77:50]

We’ve come a long way since the days of pre-war critics expressing surprise at the duplication of recordings of Haydn Quartets and Mozart Piano Sonatas. For here is the second recording of Haydn Wood’s 1928 Violin Concerto and another recording of Coleridge-Taylor’s Concerto of 1912, premiered by pioneering American violinist Maud Powell. The exponent is that fearless propagandist for British violin works, Tasmin Little, who has once again – as in her recent Moeran Concerto (Chandos CHAN 10796) – joined with the BBC Philharmonic and Andrew Davis.

All three composers on this disc – the third is Delius – shared one particular thing in common: they were all violinists. In fact Wood actually made a single 78rpm recording as a fiddle player. His Concerto is dedicated to his wife and is an effusive love letter, opening with exotic-filmic richness and proceeding with a rich variety of vivid counter-themes and primary soloistic passages. To these Little responds with surety of purpose, managing to bind the violin figuration with the romantic ardour of the writing in a thoroughly convincing way. Whilst Lorraine McAslan plays the slow movement rather faster (Dutton CDLX7245), there’s just a touch more of the elegiac about the opening theme in Little’s approach and she plays with great delicacy, refining her tone right down, flecking the line with a discreet style-conscious portamento. Her conception rightly draws attention to characterisation of fragility, not least in its deeply Delian passages. Though the finale is the weakest movement it has a frolicsome giocoso quality that, when heard in the context of its reflective B section, generates real energy.

By chance I’ve just been reading a biography of Francis Moore, who served as Maud Powell’s accompanist for a while and with whom he gave many performances of the Coleridge-Taylor Concerto in piano-reduced form. It was a work she took to her heart and its qualities have ensured recordings in the last few years. There’s a strong debt to Dvořák, not least rhythmically, but the brassy confidence of the music’s rhetoric is just as winning. There’s a real uniformity of approach to the opening movement from Little, McAslan (Lyrita SRCD317), Philippe Graffin (Avie AV0044) and Anthony Marwood (Hyperion CDA67420) who all take much the same way with the tempo relations between the sections. Rather amazingly, judged by the stopwatch, there’s a difference of just ten seconds between all of them in this movement. In the slow movement Marwood plays the McAslan figure, taking quite a forward-moving tempo. Little unfolds the music like Scheherazade, and with a wistful tenderness, before digging in to the March themes and renewed Dvořák influence of the finale.

Delius’ early Suite wasn’t performed until 1984 and is not really characteristic. It’s strongly indebted to Grieg, and Little – as is her wont with this composer – takes her judicious time over its four pleasing movements. Programmatically it offers repose between the two passionate concertos that surround it. Delius lovers will remember Ralph Holmes’ pioneering Unicorn recording of this with great admiration. There's also a well-received recording on Dutton from Philippe Graffin.

Chandos’s sound quality offers a big acoustic in which the music can expand; in Dutton’s case the Wood is more focused, and similar observations apply to the Avie and Hyperion Coleridge-Taylor. In the end decision-making may be related to couplings. McAslan paired the Wood with Lionel Sainsbury’s truly excellent contemporary Concerto. With the Johannesburg Philharmonic Graffin logically paired the Coleridge-Taylor with the Dvořák and Marwood coupled it with Somervell’s Concerto. For qualities of command and sensitivity and for the estimable collaboration with both orchestra and conductor, Tasmin Little’s performances stand tall.

Jonathan Woolf



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