Wringing every drop of pathos from the exquisite Elgar Concerto as well as having true grit, this 1985 Gramophone Record of the Year winner is as recommendable as ever.
This recording was awarded Gramophone Magazine's "Record of the Year" in 1985.
R E V I E W S
ELGAR Introduction and Allegro, op. 47. Violin Concerto • Vernon Handley, cond; Nigel Kennedy (vn); London PO • EMI 45793 (68:47)
Just as Nigel Kennedy is about to turn 50, his celebrated first recording of Elgar’s Violin Concerto has become an item in EMI’s series of “Great Recordings of the Century.” As he did in his recording of Walton’s Concerto, where he escaped the dominating influence of Heifetz, he managed not to sound much like other interpreters of Elgar, including his teacher, Menuhin, who, of course, played the work with Elgar himself. As Peter J. Rabinowitz pointed out (in 9:3) when the recording first appeared (and at the time when the work lay farther from the boundary of the standard repertoire than it now does), he’s exceptional in allowing the rhythms to ebb and flow. He lingers over the violin’s dramatic entry in the first movement and wrings the last drop of pathos from the exquisite (and, according to Menuhin, who took up the Elgar Concerto in a televised master class, exquisitely English) second theme. His recitatives in the slow movement sound like an oracle’s deliverances. But while Rabinowitz thought of Kennedy’s playing as “honeyed,” I’ve always thought of it as tough, though not coarse-grained. That extra bit of strength (and some engineering expertise, of course) allows him to soar above the oceanic orchestral climaxes. There may be those, and I was among them, who, upon hearing Kennedy’s second version of the Concerto (EMI CDC 56413) for the first time, thought that he had penetrated with Rattle even deeper into Elgar’s universe of expression than he did with Handley. There may be those, again, and I was among them, too, who upon checking their copies of the first version, felt stunned by how good it had really been. Rabinowitz, in his review of the second version (21:5), thought that Rattle may not have been so comfortable with Kennedy’s rhythmic give and take, resulting in a sort of arbitrariness in the effect. At the time of that second recording, Kennedy was just over 40 years old, still technically alert and tonally commanding. But the first recording already sounded strong minded intellectually and stentorian tonally. (The Concerto’s hard to shape, and only a violinist with sufficient dynamic resources can control its sprawling, churning, and surging climaxes and fashion them into a coherent pattern.) Rabinowitz mentions the ramp up for the third movement’s coda: an early critic suggested that in the first movement’s orchestral introduction Elgar had written music worthy of the British Empire. I’d suggest that in this reading, the queen doesn’t pass by until the very end. EMI’s coupling of Kennedy’s more recent version of the Elgar Concerto with a “filler” paved the way for this search through the archives for Handley’s pretty much contemporary reading (from 1983) of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, one that, as did the Concerto, reveals Handley’s familiarity with the composer’s milieu—in what seems still revealing recorded sound.
Nigel Kennedy, then, produced not only a Gramophone recording of the year, but also, as it now turns out, a “Great Recording of the Century.” (What’s in a name? Remember that Elgar’s own version with Menuhin—and Albert Sammons’s version, too—came from the same hundred years). Hilary Hahn’s highly touted recording, excellent though it may be, doesn’t suggest, as this one does, true grit. And it takes true grit to build an empire. As strongly recommended as ever.
Concerto for Violin in B minor, Op. 61by Sir Edward Elgar Performer:
Nigel Kennedy (Violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1909-1910; England
Remastered? It was originally recorded in digitalFebruary 23, 2012By Arturo Noyola See All My Reviews"A very short note for Mr. Robert Dixon. You mention owning the original CD. It was a CD from the beginning, digitally recorded in 1984. Unless the true meaning of remastering escapes me? It is possible. Anyway, I want to stress how many hours of pleasure this CD gave for several years. Now I very seldom listen to it, but today, commemorating Sir Edward's passing, I played it again. How warm Mr. Kennedy is in the more lyrical raptures. What a master Mr. Handley."Report Abuse
Is this remastered?February 17, 2012By Professor Robert Dixon (Sydney, NSW)See All My Reviews"I have the original CD release of this and need to know whether the new great recordings issue has been digitally remastered. If it hasn't why bother?"Report Abuse