ELGAR; DELIUS Violin Concertos
Regular readers will know that I’ve often sung the praises of Albert Sammons’ 1929 account of Elgar’s Violin Concerto with Sir Henry Wood and the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra; for me‚ it remains the finest version ever made‚ outstripping even the legendary Menuhin/Elgar collaboration from three years later in terms of authoritative grip‚ intuitive poetry and emotional candour. Previous transfers to CD have varied from satisfactory (Pearl and Novello‚ both 11/89 – nla) to merely tolerable (Avid Masters‚ A/98) and unacceptably botched (avoid Pearl’s last effort‚ 9/99‚ with its gruesome sidejoins). So it is a pleasure to encounter Mark ObertThorn’s judicious restoration for Naxos. Columbia’s early electrical recording has never been easy to transfer‚ and just occasionally backgroundlevels mask orchestral detail; otherwise‚ ObertThorn extracts plenty of body and bloom from his chosen laminated British pressings. Ultimately‚ I’d still like to think that EMI might at some stage restore Anthony Griffiths’s exemplary LP transfer (last available on World Records‚ 4/79 – nla). In the meantime‚ however‚ this newcomer will do very nicely.
Delius heard Sammons perform the Elgar in May 1915 and was so bowled over that he set about writing a concerto for the formidable virtuoso. Sammons premièred the work with Boult in January 1919 but had to wait a full quarter of a century before committing it to disc for Columbia with Sargent and the then Liverpool Philharmonic. Here is another irreplaceable document: Sammons was an assiduous champion of this glorious music‚ and although the solo playing has not quite the effortless technical mastery of its companion here (within a couple of years‚ Sammons contracted Parkinson’s disease and was forced to retire from the concert platform)‚ his wonderfully wise and unforced interpretation penetrates to the very core of Delius’s piercingly lovely vision. Although I retain an especial fondness for Jean Pougnet’s intensely poetic and persuasive 1946 account with Beecham and the RPO (EMI‚ 9/92 – nla)‚ Sammons remains essential listening. Naxos’s wellmade transfer (taken from American shellacs) has a good deal less surfacenoise than its Testament rival‚ and Tully Potter’s bookletnotes are excellent. An admirable introduction to a truly great fiddler‚ irresistible at the price.