ELGAR; BRUCH Violin Concertos
Sir Neville Marriner, who was originally to have conducted this recording, had a connection to Elgar’s Violin Concerto, as he studied at the RCM with WH Reed, the violinist who served as Elgar’s consultant regarding the practicability of the concerto’s solo part. In her lovely booklet note, Rachel Barton Pine laments the fact that Marriner died shortly before the scheduled sessions but relishes the opportunity she had to discuss the score with him.
Andrew Litton, who stepped in on short notice, does a splendid job, in any event. And he and Pine seem to be of the same mind, homing in on the music’s wistful qualities. One gets a strong whiff of melancholy right from start, thanks to Litton’s careful observation of the diminuendo marking in the two-bar phrase that follows the main motif. Pine, for her part, allows the music to ask its questions without trying to answer them for us. Listen, for instance, at 5'12" in the same movement, where she allows one to feel Elgar searching through a maze of elusive harmonies.
Only once does Pine go her own way rather than Elgar’s, and that’s when the violin takes up the ‘Windflower’ theme at 6'25". Pine plays it with catch-in-the-throat tenderness that’s ravishing, to be sure, but it’s hardly semplice as Elgar indicates. Zehetmair, for one, demonstrates that exquisiteness and simplicity are not mutually exclusive (Hallé, 8/10). Otherwise, though, Pine’s interpretation is as emotionally satisfying as it is dazzling. The slow movement is mysteriously veiled and luminous, providing a palpable sense of the music’s darker undercurrents.
The American violinist is most impressive, perhaps, in the finale, where her easy virtuosity sends sparks flying, though never at the expense of the long line. She makes expressive sense of even the thorniest passages, as at 3'00", with a sense of deeply felt, improvisatory grace. Elgar wrote that his concerto ‘enshrined a soul’, and particularly in the finale Pine seems to embody that soul, dancing and soaring above the orchestra. The long cadenza is expertly paced, and then the coda plunges ahead with thrilling inevitability.
Bruch’s G minor Concerto is certainly not what I’d choose to hear after the Elgar, although the performance is wholly persuasive in its mittel-European heartiness. The outer movements abound with snap and spice, and the Adagio has a warm solemnity that, one might argue, offers a foretaste of Elgarian nobilmente. The recorded sound is glorious, with a near-ideal balance between soloist and orchestra.