I needed a corrective to two recent Elgar Violin Concertos that I experienced – the inconsistent (shall we say) approach from Nicola Benedetti (and Vladimir Jurowski) for Decca, and the shambolic Proms account (given during the 2008 season) from Nigel Kennedy, often hectic and messy, that BBC Radio 3 re-broadcast yesterday, Friday August 7 from 2 p.m., and from which I exonerate Paul Daniel (replacing Vernon Handley) and the BBC Concert Orchestra of culpability who had no choice but to join in with Kennedy’s ill-conceived frenzy, the faster music careered through at a rate of knots that sunk it without trace.
No worries about forced-along tempos from Ida Haendel and Sir Adrian. Indeed, at fifty-five minutes, this may be the longest Elgar VC in the catalogue – although timings are a mere statistic, it’s how the space is filled that’s important – for Haendel and Boult bring experience, insight and passion, poise too, to the whole, yet … I heard Haendel live four times in this Concerto – with Bernard Haitink, John Pritchard, and twice with Andrew Davis – and she was consistently around the forty-seven-minute mark, and one wouldn’t expect Boult (who had previously recorded the Elgar with Campoli and then Menuhin) to be quite as expansive as this, so I wonder how he and she, at Abbey Road Studios in April & June 1977 and January 1978, reached this uncharacteristic if intriguing result, produced by Christopher Bishop and engineered by Christopher Parker, released on HMV ASD 3598, the LP’s cover illustrated.
I missed the vinyl and first caught the Elgar on Testament’s CD (SBT 1146, released in 1998), and was taken aback by the performance. Now, I appreciate it the more, partly in relation to those violinists cited above, for there is much that is compelling from (the recently late) Ida Haendel and the consummate conducting of Sir Adrian – there is no sense of them agreeing to disagree – and Boult’s majestic conception of the ultimate coda is overwhelming.
Testament (which also lists another version of Haendel’s Elgar, forty-six minutes, from a 1984 concert with Simon Rattle conducting, ditto the Sibelius coupling, SBT 1444) adds to the Elgar a 1995 Bach Chaconne (D-minor Partita) that finds Haendel equally magnetic.