ELGAR: Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op. 61; Serenade for Strings in E Minor, Op. 20 – James Ehnes, violin/ Philharmonia Orchestra/ Andrew Davis – Onyx

by | Jan 21, 2008 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

ELGAR: Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op. 61; Serenade for Strings in E Minor, Op. 20 – James Ehnes, violin/Philharmonia Orchestra/ Andrew Davis – Onyx 4025, 61:08 (Distrib. Harmonia mundi) ****:

Elgar’s valedictory, spacious Violin Concerto (1907-1910) has commanded my attention for a long time, my first having grown up with the historical recording with the composer and the youthful Yehudi Menuhin, then my having witnessed Menuhin in concert with Robert Shaw in Atlanta solidified my own affinity for the work’s palpitating earnestness.. Dedicated to Fritz Kreisler, who premiered it, the piece resonates with its unspoken kinship to Alice Stuart-Wortley, whose affectionate friendship Elgar cherished. Rather loosely based on the concerto by Brahms, the piece incorporates many individual touches, especially the third movement accompanied cadenza, in which subdued strings strum while the solo intones many ideas from each of the movements, a kind of thematic recollection we hear in Beethoven’s Ninth.

Canadian virtuoso James Ehnes wields a strikingly-toned 1715 “Ex Marsick” Stradivarius for this fine recording (17, 20 May 2007) from Queen Elizabeth’s Hall, London. Alternating lyrically rapturous episodes with those of meditative, declamatory nostalgia, Elgar has Ehnes slow down our hectic lifestyle to a stylized, pregnant pause. The first movement, via upward thirds and fifths, achieves an aspirational, even devotional, bravura militancy, tempered by wistful remembrance. The B-flat Andante offers us bucolic consolation, a tender poignancy buttressed by unusual scoring, that of asking trombones and tympani in the bass to add colorful elegance to the thematic line. Has anyone noted the similarity in spirit of the opening of Elgar’s Allegro molto last movement to the identical movement in the Busoni Concerto in D? Energy and contemplation alternate once more, until the consummation of the movement, the protracted cadenza, in which Ehnes shines, much in the tradition of Heifetz, Sammons, and Campoli in this work.

The little E Minor Serenade (1892) proves Elgar’s early talent in making music sing, especially in the lyrically ardent vein. After a 6/8 tripping first movement, the Philharmonia intones the lovely Larghetto, with its falling seventh degree; the last movement becomes playful and a bit cyclic in character, recalling a tune from movement one. While I will not relinquish my classic Beecham account, this inscription by Davis complements the Concerto in spirit and mode perfectly.

— Gary Lemco

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