Elgar Violin Concerto Little Chandos CHSA5083 SACD

Déjà Review: this review was first published in April 2011 and the recording is still available.

Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Violin Concerto in B minor, Op 61 (1910)
Alternative Cadenza for the Violin Concerto (1910-1916)
Interlude from The Crown of India, Op 66 (1912)
Polonia, Op 76 (1915)
Tasmin Little (violin)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis
rec. 2010, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, UK
Chandos CHSA5083 SACD [75]

Recordings of Elgar’s concerto have come thick and fast recently. This one can more than hold its own in company as distinguished as Thomas Zehetmair and Nicolaj Znaider. The first thing that strikes you is the beauty of the recorded sound: taped in the superb acoustic of Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, the Chandos engineers have done a marvellous job of capturing a lovely bloom around the sound, allowing it to breathe and flow so that the nobility innate in so much of Elgar’s music is all the more apparent. You need only listen to the breadth of phrasing apparent in the opening minute of the work to appreciate their achievement. It works particularly well for the pastoral beauty of the slow movement which sounds, perhaps ironically in the light of the performers and the location, quintessentially “English”.

The orchestral tone itself is gorgeous throughout, grand and sweeping in the main theme of the first movement, yearning and subtle in the “Windflower” themes without losing any of the scale. It helps to have an Elgarian of Andrew Davis’s stature piloting the ship. He is alive to every nuance, shaping every phrase with the authority that comes from a world of experience in this music. He is especially open to the ebb and flow that keeps the first movement going, varying the pace with certainty every time the composer requires it. A gentle haze settles over the slow movement, something I found absolutely gorgeous, but the finale has a real crack to its pace, sounding headlong and unharnessed.

Tasmin Little herself is outstanding throughout. Her technique is rock-solid, tossing off the runs, double-stops and trills as if she were taking a walk in the park. Her command of the fiendish finale is particularly impressive, as is the way she listens to the orchestra so that she is in constant communication with her colleagues, never above them. She is always innately musical, never showy for its own sake, and there is a beautiful sense of communion, of summing up and concluding, in the great cadenza. Incidentally, she worked with harpist Gwawr Owen to reconstruct the cadenza which Elgar composed for his original 1916 recording of the work. Elgar realised that most of the cadenza’s accompaniment would be lost in the limited technology of acoustic recording so he added the harp part to give it extra body, but the part was then lost, so it’s especially interesting to have it included here as a bonus track. It wouldn’t need this to make this performance self-recommending, though. Little and Davis take their place among contemporary recordings by the likes of Znaider and Zehetmair, and I don’t think it’s going too far to say that Little is also worthy to look Kennedy and Bean in the eye without fear.

The Crown of India interlude is serene and reflective, blessed again by Little’s gorgeous violin playing. Polonia was written for a concert in aid of Polish victims of the Great War and contains a collection of stirring melodies by Polish composers (including Paderewski and Chopin) as well as a typically expansive Elgar theme that tugs at the patriotic heartstrings. It’s unashamedly big-boned and it’s very well played, making it an excellent way to finish off a highly successful disc.

Simon Thompson

Previous review: Bob Briggs

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