Elgar Violin Concerto; Cello Concerto; Dream Children
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Albert Sammons’s towering 1929 performance of the Violin Concerto with Sir Henry Wood has never been surpassed in terms of authoritative grip, intuition and ardour – an assessment which, I was pleased to read, annotator Tully Potter would no doubt heartily endorse. The prospect of a long-overdue and technically satisfying new CD transfer of this great and glorious document was, therefore, a mouth-watering one. Alas, it was not to be.
My eyebrows were immediately raised by Pearl’s printed timings for the three individual movements, each of which knock between 15 and 20 seconds off previous incarnations, and comparative listening duly revealed that this newcomer has indeed been transferred at a fractionally sharper pitch than any of its CD rivals to date. The basic sound is pleasing, though the exceptionally rich bass at times verges on the uncomfortably boomy. To plunge the listener into the slow movement with barely a second’s respite strikes me as perverse, but what really renders this newcomer a non-starter are the disfiguring side-joins: in the first movement alone, I located three examples – at 3'46'', 7'33'' and 11'17'' – which, I have to say, made me feel quite queasy. (For the record, similar botches occur at 7'31'' in the central Andante, and at 6'56'' in the finale.) I should add that a number of my colleagues – richly experienced Elgarians to a man – share my amazement that no one at Pearl noticed any of these anomalies.
All of which is a crying shame, especially as the couplings – W. H. Squire’s forthright, noble 1930 version of the Cello Concerto with Sir Hamilton Harty and the Halle, and the same conductor’s cherishable reading of Dream Children – are so appealing and sound infinitely more appetizing than they do on two earlier CD releases on my shelves (the Cello Concerto on Novello Legend, 11/89 – nla; Dream Children on BBC Records, 9/90 – nla). For the Violin Concerto, however, stick with either Pearl’s previous transfer ((CD) GEMMCD9496, coupled with Sammons’s 1935 account of Elgar’s Violin Sonata with William Murdoch) or the recent Avid Masters issue (A/98): neither is absolutely ideal, so I will merely repeat my plea to EMI for a new lease of life for Anthony Griffith’s splendid LP transfer (last available on World Records, 4/79 – nla).'