Notes and Editorial Reviews
Gabriel Ng (vn); Tze Law Chan, cond; O of the Music Makers
OMM LIVE no number (47:55) Live: Singapore 6/17/2011
Elgar’s Violin Concerto, like Beethoven’s, bears the opus number 61 and stands proudly beside its distinguished predecessor as one of the towering masterpieces of the genre. Both concertos also share the honor of having been commissioned, exactly a century apart (1806 and 1906), by leading virtuosos of the age. Fritz Kreisler gave the first public performance of the Elgar Concerto, but he
could not be persuaded to record it. Instead, 16-year-old Yehudi Menuhin accepted the challenge, resulting in one of the classics of gramophone history. Since its release in 1932, more than 80 years ago, it has never been out of the catalog. Now history repeats itself, with another 16-year-old violinist, Singaporean Gabriel Ng, in the solo role.
The Menuhin connection goes further. Ng studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School in the UK, won the Bach Prize at the 2013 Menuhin International Violin Competition in Beijing, performed at the 2013 Menuhin Festival Gstaad in Switzerland, and has just released a recording of Elgar’s Concerto in a performance that can stand beside its distinguished predecessor as a manifestation of artistic maturity that totally belies its youthful origin. And to carry the Elgar connection further, conductor Tze Law Chan, himself a violinist as well, studied with Hugh Bean, who studied with Albert Sammons, who performed the Concerto over 100 times and made the first complete recording of it in 1929.
From the first notes one is enthralled by the beauty and richness of Ng’s tone, drawn from a 1752 Landolphi. Then come the masterly shaping of phrases and aura of total involvement. The Concerto is packed to the hilt with fearsome technical challenges—huge leaps, long series of double and triple stops, scales spanning two octaves to be played in a flash—all of which Ng handles with apparent ease. And as if this weren’t enough to daunt all but the most intrepid of violinists, it is the longest violin concerto in the standard repertory, clocking in at about 50 minutes (slightly longer than Beethoven’s), during which the soloist is playing almost constantly. To Ng, “the main challenge of this concerto is the sheer length. It requires a lot of stamina to even get through the piece.”
Ng freely admits to familiarity with Menuhin’s 1932 recording. Ng’s tempos in the outer movements vary by but a few seconds from Menuhin’s, while Ng’s slow movement, at 11:10, is some two minutes faster. What I particularly like about Ng’s playing, compared to Menuhin’s, is his slightly more relaxed and lyrical approach. His tone is also a bit less intense, but if intensity is what you want, go to Heifetz (who also shaves nearly seven minutes off Ng’s total timing, without cuts). And of course, the engineering is infinitely superior to what Menuhin had available in 1932.
Chan conducts Singapore’s Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM), an amateur ensemble that plays like professionals. Aside from a few slightly out-of-tune woodwind chords in the slow movement, there is nothing to fault. Chan, like Ng, takes a spaciously lyrical approach to the music, and co-ordinates the significant orchestral contribution to a T with his soloist, expertly handling the numerous tempo changes, impelling the orchestra to match Ng in all the music’s passion and poetry. (Ng told me that it is one of Chan’s favorite works, and that it was he who introduced him to the Concerto and encouraged him to perform it.)
The live performance was given in Singapore’s Esplanade Concert Hall in June 2011, but there no evidence of an audience, save for the applause at the end. There is no filler, but with a performance like this none is needed. Excellent program notes by OMM violist Christopher Cheong add to the luster of this release.
Now 19, Ng has been winning major competitions for more than half his life. He continues his studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London with David Takeno. Here is surely one of the great violinists of the early 21st century.
FANFARE: Robert Markow
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in B minor, Op. 61 by Sir Edward Elgar
Gabriel Ng (Violin)
Tze Law Chan
Orchestra Of The Music Makers
Written: 1909-1910; England
Be the first to review this title