ELGAR: Violin Concerto in b Minor, Op. 61; STENHAMMAR: Two Sentimental Romances, Op. 28 – Triin Ruubel, violin/ Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/ Neeme Jarvi – Sorel SCCD 016, 58:56 (7/20) [Distr. by Naxos]****:
Edward Elgar met the esteemed violinist Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) at the Leeds Festival in 1904. Kreisler had performed the Brahms Concerto, and he respected the music of Elgar, stating in 1905 to the Hereford Times
I place [Elgar] on an equal footing with my idols, Beethoven and Brahms. He is of the
same aristocratic family. . . I wish Elgar would write something for the violin.
Elgar began composing his B minor Concerto in late 1905, dedicating the work to Kreisler. But no less an influence, Lady Alice Stuart Wortley developed a deep affection and respect for each other, leading Elgar to nickname her “Windflower,” and he set three major, intimate works as his “Windflower” trilogy: the Violin Concerto, the Symphony No. 2 in E-flat, and the Ode, “The Music Makers.” Elgar would refer to Lady Alice as the “stepmother” of these compositions, especially in those times when his imagination faltered, and the scores lay fallow.
In three traditional movements, the scope of the Concerto’s emotional range proves vast, rich in melodic content—with five themes and many rhythmic fluctuations—the outside movements each running to eighteen minutes, enclosing a dream-like Andante. The last movement contains an accompanied cadenza that functions like an operatic recitative. When the last movement quotes the lilting tune from the opening Allegro, the cyclic structure achieves its closure. The last movement proceeds in a grand, swaggering manner reminiscent of Brahms, moving in constant motion that offers hurdles In multiple stops, octaves, and high harmonics. The intimidating cadenza carries its own instructions: “The pizzicato tremolando should be `thrummed’ with the soft part of three or four fingers across the strings.” When it comes to women’s performing the Elgar Concerto, we collectors easily gravitate to Ida Haendel, but this collaboration between Ruubel and Jarvi testifies to a thorough and idiomatic grasp of the score. The forward momentum of the opening movement maintains a fine balance between inflated drama and demure lyricism, and the wonderful Andante receives a reading of ecstatic grace. The score, recall, bears the inscription: “Aqui esta encerrada el alma de . . . . . “ [Here is enshrined the soul of . . . . .] We might well imagine that the music pays homage to the two women named Alice in Elgar’s life, his wife and Lady Wortley, each supporting his emotional and artistic needs. Estonian violin virtuoso Ruubel strikes us as a natural and passionate advocate for Romantic as well as her preferred contemporary music, and we might speculate if she will address the Nielsen and Sibelius concertos on record.
Although the Stockholm-born Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927) achieved fame as a gifted pianist—his having studied with Richard Andersson, a noted Clara Schumann pupil—Stenhammar’s passion for chamber music led to his association with the Aulin String Quartet, which honed his mastery for writing for stringed instruments and performing piano quintets. His Two Sentimental Romances (1910) meant to be performed as a diptych, although violinists occasionally program them independently. The A Major Romance urges a lyrical, gracious temper, Andantino, indicative of the melodic influence of Sibelius. The F minor Romance, Allegro patetico, has a more passionate utterance, although its middle section—the long line of the violin accompanied by soft winds – has its own charm.
Recorded at Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn, Estonia, August 2017 under the direction of Tanel Klesment, the sonic resonance of Ruubel and Jarvi’s crack ensemble remains fresh, focused, and warmly attractive.