Another day, another Elgar Cello Concerto – over-exposure has diminished the composer’s confiding and melancholic expression. I listen to it rarely and when I do I have two first-choice recordings, coincidentally featuring the Philharmonia Orchestra – Steven Isserlis with Paavo Järvi conducting (Hyperion), and Janos Starker with Leonard Slatkin presiding (RCA Red Seal); in a box-set reissue, the latter was erroneously credited to the London Philharmonic.
Avie does have the LPO. Placed second on the disc is the Elgar. There is no doubting the impassioned attack at the Concerto’s opening from Israeli cellist Inbal Segev (who in her formative years attracted the mentorship of Isaac Stern, who recommended her for studies in the States, which turned out to be Yale and Juilliard, and Zubin Mehta, who conducted her Israel and Berlin Philharmonic debuts).
But however arresting the first bars are, it partly comes from Segev being balanced very closely, sometimes to the detriment of the Orchestra and to quieter dynamics. She is a fine player, musicianship and virtuosity in an agreeable marriage, spot-on intonation, poised phrasing… however, with dynamics mostly loud and loudest, the LPO shrill and hard-edged at times, and Lyndhurst Hall’s Air Studios sporting hefty, four-second, reverberation (whether real or artificial), this, from September last year (Andrew Walton and Deborah Spanton, producer and engineer respectively) is hard work on the ears, head-phoned in my case; a shame, because there is much to admire in the performance … although, and of course, there are innumerable recordings of this Concerto out there, including with the composer conducting.
Anna Clyne’s five-movement, twenty-five minute Dance (premiered by Segev 3/2019) may just rescue this release. Pastoral (the first movement suggests dawn in the countryside), gutsy, lyrical, strident (!), intimate, pulsating, intense, there is a range here with much appeal … but I won’t labour the point about the sound, although fifty-four minutes of intensive listening was more than enough. Avie AV2419. I’m seeking a flak jacket.