Edward Elgar is known for his compositional style, which celebrates the late glory of the British Empire, reaching a climax celebrated annually in the Last Night of the Proms in his Pomp and Circumstance Marches. However, Elgar can also be heard in other ways, such as in his Cello Concerto and in his Violin Concerto, which, although unmistakably Victorian in style, indulge in a completely outmoded musical romanticism. Both concerts have been recorded on numerous recordings and are still being recorded today. They are therefore classics of the sound carrier market and also of the concert business.
A discographic highlight of the Elgar Violin Concerto is the recording with the sixteen-year-old Yehudi Menuhin and the composer at the conductor podium in 1932, 22 years after the first performance with the dedicatee Fritz Kreisler and at the time already with Edward Elgar. The Menuhin recording also defines a high point from a technical point of view: this was the first time that this concerto was recorded using the electrical method, thus showing the listener at home for the first time the opulent orchestration that Elgar gave to the concerto. The first recording of the Concerto in acoustic recording technique was made in 1929 with the formidable British violinist Albert Sammons and conductor Sir Henry Wood. This recording, made with the aid of a horn, must understandably have a lower sound quality than the Menuhin recording made with microphones. It does, however, mark one of the two extremes of interpretation with a tight grip and brisk pace right at the beginning of the discography of the Elgar Violin Concerto. The Sammons/Wood duo mastered the concerto in just 43 minutes, while Menuhin/Elgar require seven minutes more time, thereby having enough time to emphasis the opulence and the magistrale of the work. These two approaches, which differ in terms of time and interpretation, split interpretations recorded on sound carriers into two camps. Today's prominent recordings mainly follow the Menuhin/Elgar approach, as the recordings by Pinchas Zukerman, who at around 50 minutes are very close to Menuhin/Elgar, while Nigel Kennedy holds the record for slowness at 54 minutes.
The British violinist Nicola Benedetti, who recently recorded the Elgar Violin Concerto with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic, is, with a duration of just 48 minutes, well above the record time of Sammons/Wood and below the duration of the Menuhin/Elgar recording, but in any case, well below the lavish times of the contemporaries Kennedy and Co. Of course, the time required for an interpretation is not in itself a criterion for its quality. The time frame, however, has a decisive influence on the mood that an interpretation can lend to a work, and in this respect, Nicola Benedetti pursues her own admirable path, far from any pomp and circumstance, with assertive, robust violin tone, energetically supported by the conductor and the orchestra. Lyrically expressive and, where appropriate, gripping, Nicola Benedetti sets herself apart from the competition for violin recordings. This is an exciting version of the Elgar violin concerto that you have to have.
The Elgar album is completed by three miniatures for violin and piano: Sospiri, Salut d'amour and Chanson de nuit. Accompanied by Petr Limonov, Nicola Benedetti ennobles these miniatures with a delicate, silky soft tone, which contrasts with the muscular tone in the concert and demonstrates the artist's versatility.
Nicola Benedetti, violin
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski, conductor