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Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61 (1910) [51.09]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 (1866, rev, 1867) [25.14]
Rachel Barton Pine (violin)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton
rec. 2017, Studio 1, BBC Maida Vale, London
AVIE AV2375 [76.23]

Avie presents a new recording in which Chicago-born virtuoso Rachel Barton Pine tackles two great concertos of the repertory: Bruch’s First Violin Concerto and Elgar’s Violin Concerto, works written 44 years apart. Pine points out that the Bruch concerto is the shortest work in the standard Romantic concerto repertoire. Single movements of some violin concertos are almost as long as the whole Bruch concerto. By contrast Elgar’s Violin Concerto is one of his longest works with orchestra.

Elgar’s Violin Concerto has gradually gained admirers and is regarded as one of his finest works. Composed in response to virtuoso Fritz Kreisler’s request for Elgar to write something for violin, it was the composer who conducted the premiere of the score with Kreisler as soloist at Queen’s Hall, London in 1910. An intensely personal work, the score is inscribed with the Spanish words "Aqui está encerrada el alma de ....." (Herein is enshrined the soul of ....). This is thought to be a reference to Alice Stuart-Wortley, who he nicknamed Windflower, a major inspiration for the work. Conspicuous in the stormy emotions of the opening movement Allegro is the composer’s rich melodic inspiration, which rarely disappoints. Here Pine’s playing is forthrightly passionate, matching the inspiration of this highly romantic writing. A movement of exquisite beauty, the central Andante conveys the sense of an intense amatory relationship: This is reflected in the unmistakable intimacy of the soloist’s performance. The richly themed Finale, marked Allegro molto, draws ebullient playing and a sense of high engagement from Pine, who takes the virtuosity in her stride. She captures the dramatic character of the conclusion with assurance and with beautiful control. My first-choice account of Elgar’s Violin Concerto is passionately performed by Nikolaj Znaider with the Staatskapelle Dresden under Sir Colin Davis, recorded in 2009 at Lukaskirche, Dresden on RCA Red Seal. Worthy of praise, too, is the inspired 1984 Watford Town Hall account by Kennedy with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Vernon Handley on EMI.

Bruch’s very beautiful First Violin Concerto has an enduring popularity in the concert hall and new recordings just keep on coming. Bruch laboured hard on the G minor score and completed it in 1866. After its premičre in Koblenz, by soloist Otto von Königslöw, Bruch gave the score some revision and later the eminent violinist Joseph Joachim was soloist at the first performance of the revised score in 1868 at Bremen. Throughout, Pine’s glowing playing contains a satisfying mix of vitality and sensitivity. In Pine’s hands the opening movement – Vorspiel: Allegro moderato – has an introspective, rather yearning quality. The exquisite tenderness of her performance of the central Adagio, the emotional heart of the score, is striking without ever becoming over-sentimental. The strongly Hungarian character of the Allegro energico Finale seems particularly reminiscent of the music of Brahms. With considerable artistry, Pine brings notable ebullience to this Finale, especially in the brilliant virtuoso passages. Of the plethora of accounts of the Bruch score, the one which I play most often is performed by Jaime Laredo, who also directs the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Laredo’s account is warm and extremely characterful, direct in approach and full of joy. Originally released in 1961 on RCA Victor, my copy of the Laredo recording is an IMP Classics reissue. It has subsequently been reissued on Regis. In addition to his acclaimed First Violin Concerto Bruch wrote 8 other works for violin and orchestra, all of high quality, which I commend to those who don’t know them: the Second and Third Violin Concertos, Op. 44 & 58; Adagio appassionato, Op. 57; In Memoriam: Adagio, Op. 65; Romance, Op. 42; Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46; Konzertstück (Concert Piece), Op. 84 and Serenade, Op. 75.

Pine is playing her ‘ex-Soldat’ Joseph Guarneri del Gesú (Cremona, 1742). It emits a sweet tone which sounds impressive in combination with her beautiful intonation. Throughout these performances, the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Litton play with considerable vitality and just the right amount of weight, providing a distinctly dramatic element. Recording at Studio 1, BBC Maida Vale, London, the Avie engineering team has provided high quality sound with excellent clarity, presence and balance. The booklet essay, written by Rachel Barton Pine herself, is both interesting and informative.

The competition in the record catalogues for the Elgar and Bruch concertos is fierce especially for the latter. However, this coupling is a desirable one. With Rachel Barton Pine in such inspiring form, I certainly have no hesitation in recommending this release of the Elgar and Bruch violin concertos.

Michael Cookson



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