Elgar: Violin Concerto - Little / Davis

Elgar: Violin Concerto - Little / Davis

Chandos  CHSA 5083

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Elgar: Violin Concerto Op. 61, Polonia, Interlude from "The Crown of India" Op. 66

Tasmin Little (violin)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis (conductor)

Tasmin Little’s recording of the Elgar’s Violin Concerto has been released to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the work’s first performance. In concert Tasmin is especially associated with Elgar’s Violin Concerto: in 2007, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sir Edward Elgar, she performed the concerto on a major tour to Southeast Asia and Australia, and she has also performed it extensively in London – at the BBC Proms, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican, and with the Philharmonia Orchestra in the Royal Festival Hall.

What makes this recording especially interesting is that she has included the cadenza used in the work’s first recording, which was made in 1916 with Marie Hall. For that occasion, Elgar ‘beefed-up’ the cadenza by, amongst other things, adding harps to counter the sonic limitations of the acoustic recording process. For those used to hearing the standard version, the result makes for fascinating listening, and the recording will prove a valuable addition to the Elgar discography. The cadenza has been tracked separately as Tasmin Little has also recorded the concerto’s familiar cadenza.

The Violin Concerto is complemented by the charming Interlude, for violin and orchestra, from The Crown of India, and the rarely recorded but imposing Polonia, an inventive and colourful score using genuine polish material, which was commissioned by the Polish conductor Emil Mlynarski in 1915 and dedicated to Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the pianist-composer and, later, Prime Minister of Poland.

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Reviews (1)

Review by John Broggio - October 27, 2010

The first recordings on SACD for Polonia, the Interlude from "The Crown of India" and the alternative cadenza from the Violin Concerto complement a stunning début on the medium by Tasmin Little in arguably the greatest British violin concerto ever written.

On SACD, there is only one other version of the violin concerto to have been issued (Elgar: Violin Concerto etc. - Hilary Hahn - now deleted) but this would in any case sweep the board even if all, including the recent Ehnes, the currently available RBCD versions were to be reissued on SACD! Although it is far from a "straight" reading, Little's has the great advantage of not wearing her heart on her sleeve - this is heartfelt but not exhibitionist playing and Elgar's music benefits greatly as a result. Nor does Sir Andrew Davis allow the orchestra to emote too much whilst retaining a wonderful sense of nostalgia - his accompaniment feels as though it was for all times. Where many allow their sense of rhapsody to break this concerto into bleeding chunks of great beauty, Davis and Little combine to bring a sense of unity rarely found in this work.

In particular, the central slow movement is played so touchingly that time seems to stand still and the rapt hush at the close is extremely poignant indeed. There also deft, quasi comic, touches where Little's violin appears to laugh in delight at the writing that Elgar has gifted us. A positive gain is also the more disciplined than usual approach to an Elgarian sound from Sir Andrew Davis, allowing the Royal Scottish National Orchestra to play out more than is usual whilst still letting the solo line shine over winningly. The intonation from all parties at times makes other partnerships sound amateurish, especially at times of great technical difficulty; a slight complaint might be that it all sounds a little too easy! But that would be unfair for there is little, if anything to cavil at.

As a couple encores, Little presents an "Alternative Cadenza" for the violin concerto - with a harp part reconstructed from the original 1916 recording - and the Interlude from "The Crown of India" Op. 66. The cadenza was re-written for the debut recording as Elgar (probably correctly) felt that the technology of the day would have not conveyed the subtleties of the cadenza accompaniment adequately so he bolstered them with a harp; it is this that Gwawr Owen (harpist) has transcribed from the recording, so that we can now properly hear the effect that Elgar heard nearly 100 years ago. Naturally, the "Alternative Cadenza" is played with as much authority as the conventional version and both renditions make time stand still in these hands; the one shame is that we can't programme our players to suit our fancy. The Interlude is beautiful as a composition and is played with touching simplicity by all concerned.

Polonia only has one other account on SACD at present, transcribed for organ, so this version has no real competition to date. Sir Andrew Davis and the RSNO relish their time in the spotlight and helpfully the wonderful notes identify with timings the various sections that Elgar borrowed and those that he gave fresh. This is of altogether a more extrovert type of music and this is reflected in the approach from the performers; brilliant biting brass add their weight to the organ that underpins the cushion of string sound. Written in tribute to the oppression Poland suffered at the beginning of C20, it makes one wonder how Elgar would have reacted had he lived to see how the western Allies left Poland to its horrible fate as part of the Eastern Bloc.

The sound is the characteristically rich Chandos patina but with added clarity afforded by sumptuous and flattering MCH balances. At once the sound is clear, bright and deep with a wide sound-stage that places everyone solidly in front of the listener. Fortunately, for all the very quiet moments, this was recorded in studio conditions, so there are no audience participation issues to consider. The one technical quibble I have is that with playing that so utterly floors the listener, bigger gaps should have been considered (not that they are too short but sometimes the spell just wants to linger).

It is wonderful to have followed Little's career from playing the Korngold concerto with my county youth orchestra back in the early-1990's to watching her Prom's appearance with the Ligeti concerto (BPO/Rattle) and now this - recommended wholeheartedly.

Copyright © 2010 John Broggio and


Sonics (Multichannel):

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Comments (1)

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - January 11, 2020 (1 of 1)

The other day I had a listen to Ning Feng’s interpretation with the Liverpool Philharmonic in Hi-res Surround (only available as download), having garnered much acclaim. Whilst it is true that his playing is of a very high standard, I came to the conclusion that perfection is not the answer, at least not the sole element for making the right choice. For me, and for conveying Elgar’s mood at the time of composing this concerto, emotional understanding is of prime importance, and that is exactly the case with Tasmin Little, albeit in a so typically British restraint fashion.