ELGAR: Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op. 61 – Nikolaj Znaider, violin/Staatskapelle Dresden/Sir Colin Davis – RCA Red Seal

by | Jan 9, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

ELGAR: Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op. 61 – Nikolaj Znaider, violin/Staatskapelle Dresden/Sir Colin Davis – RCA Red Seal 88697 60588 2, 49:35 ***½:

Recorded 6-8 July 2009 at the Lukaskirche, Dresden, this rendition of the Elgar Violin Concerto utilizes the same instrument, a 1741 Guarnerius del Gesu, that Fritz Kreisler brandished at the premier in 1910. Quite conscious of their musical predecessors, Elgar and Menuhin, the present collaborators attempt to make the most sonically luscious of inscriptions, alternately torrential and elegiac. Ever indebted to the spirit of Brahms, Elgar fashions many of his sequences in the same rising and falling patterns as the older German master, although the solo violin never plays the main theme in its entirety. What ensues in the massive first movement resembles a symphonic poem with intimate violin interludes, rather in the manner of Scheherazade. Elgar took a quotation from the novel Gil Blas as an “enigmatic” rubric for the piece, claiming that its melodic kernels hinted at the soul of a distant beloved, an oblique reference to Beethoven, whose own Violin Concerto shares the same opus number.

Audiophiles will gravitate to the recording for the juicy plastic sonics the Dresden strings and horns project, courtesy of engineer Andreas Ruge. We must admire both Znaider’s strong technical grasp of the concerto and his sheer endurance, playing with a ravenous energy to extend the melodic line and breath heavy sighs into its romantic gestures. The second movement Andante likely captures the heartfelt gratitude of Elgar for his wife Alice, two souls in poised harmony. An extended aria that passes through several registers, the music has an affinity for the pastoral affect of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Composed at the cusp of WW I, the music bids a nostalgic farewell to the graceful Edwardian values that produced it.

The Allegro molto finale opens with frothy energy, possibly echoing bravura figures we hear in the Busoni Concerto. The frenetic impulses chase each other and develop, only to come to an emotionally shattering stop with a remarkable cadenza. Here, Znaider and Davis ardently wish to create astral and sublime effects, on a par with visions from William Blake. A collage of colors–from strings, horns, bassoons, tympani, and clarinets–accompanies this extraordinary essay on the nature of memory, Elgar’s homage to Proust by way of a melancholy meditation on the first movement. Trills and flute effects take us to ever-new configurations of elegy, until at long last, the solo and orchestra merge into a stirring finale, a bright future streaked with affectionate tears.

My only quibble with this disc is its length: why the equally valedictory Serenade, Op. 20 could not have been included is a mystery to me.

–Gary Lemco

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