ELGAR: Violin Concerto; BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1 – Rachel Burton Pine, violin/ BBC Symphony Orchestra/ Andrew Litton – Avie 

Rachel Burton Pine makes the emotional connection of these two Romantic concertos quite clear.

ELGAR: Violin Concerto in b minor, Op. 61; BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in g minor, Op. 26 – Rachel Burton Pine, violin/ BBC Symphony Orchestra/ Andrew Litton – Avie AV 2375, 76:23 (1/5/18) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] ****:

In her accompanying liner notes. Rachel Burton Pine admits that the early pairing of the Elgar and Bruch concertos by the youthful Yehudi Menuhin for EMI played a significant role in her concept of these two Romantic staples of the violin repertory (rec. 9-11 January 2017).  The 1909 Elgar Concerto came as a result of Elgar’s reading complimentary remarks about him made by Fritz Kreisler, expressing the thought that a violin concerto—the violin’s being Elgar’s own instrument—would be much appreciated. Elgar began sketching out the in 1905, but his most creative period began in 1909.  The idea of “spring” suffuses the piece,  that is in the form of a wood anemone or “Windflower,” as Elgar inscribes it.

There are two such “Windflower” themes in the first movement, the second of which the clarinet utters.  The Spanish inscription of “Here is enshrined the soul of . . .” adds another “enigma” to the Elgar persona, and the drooping theme of the spring flower permeates the music, which eventually achieves a maestoso character.  The violin part, quite demanding, takes up the music of the orchestral introduction to establish the key of b minor.  The Andante, however, takes an unusual route by dropping down a semitone into B-flat Major, proffering a theme marked nobilmente that becomes passionate in an otherwise hazy, dreamy atmosphere. The last movement, Allegro molto, contains turbulent, agitated passagework, quite virtuosic; but the real surprise lies in the accompanied cadenza based on tunes from movement one, in which Pine must play pizzicato tremolando, a “strummed” effect that supposedly mirrors  the “Aeolian harp” ornament that hung in the window of Elgar’s study. The last pages offer the kind of impassioned and exalted, “Edwardian” grandeur that defines the Elgar sense of nobility.

A side note to this fine rendition between Pine and Litton: originally, Sir Neville Marriner meant to make this his first recoding of the Elgar Concerto, but his untimely death caused Andrew Litton to substitute.

For my two cents’ worth, Litton makes a more personal impression in the 1864 Bruch Concerto.  This popular work can become so “routine” that it plays simply as a vehicle for some athletic ingénue. Litton, however, invests an extremely devoted level of concentration to each orchestral tutti and to the individual instrumental colors that support the driven solo part. Not since the collaboration of Erica Morini with Ferenc Fricsay have I felt compelled to attend to the orchestral transitions with such nicety of effect. Litton leans into every Romantic nuance that Bruch offers, but he commicates degrees of loving nuance without having stepped – or steeped – himself into exaggerated bathos. Pine herself has come fully equipped to deliver eminently effective readings of both works; in the Bruch I found myself comparing the incisive bite of her attacks to those of Guila Bustabo, that most singular of all the great interpreters of this concerto, regardless of gender.

The sound of Pine’s exquisite Guarneri del Gesu, Cremona, 1742, comes to us in refined colors, courtesy of Producer Andrew Keener and Recording Engineer Robert Winter.

—Gary Lemco

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