Notes and Editorial Reviews
Elman made two commercial recordings of the Tchaikovsky Concerto. The first, with Barbirolli in 1929, has seldom been out of the catalogue in one form or another. The second dates from an LPO session with Boult in 1954 and is much less well known. But dating from December 1945 comes this live Boston/Paray traversal that catches the great violinist still on the right side of physical infirmity and a gradual but inexorable waning of powers. These latter do manifest themselves in particular ways in the companion concerto, the Mendelssohn.
In terms of structure the Boston performance of the Tchaikovsky differs little from the 1929 traversal; the timings for the first movement are in fact almost identical though there are
differences in matters of thematic emphasis, metrical displacements, vibrato usage and phrasal elasticity. This is still however, very recognisably, the master tonalist of old, one who imbued every phrase with lavish intensity and a throbbing, molten vivacity. He brings intense concentration and expressive shading to his opening rhetorical statement and the Elmanesque rubato that no-one could quite match. He is very slow and highly romanticised; the orchestral pizzicati that point the rhythm are delayed an age as a result. Elman lavishes prayerful simplicity after the cadenza and his voluptuous vibrato takes on an ever more devastating candour. Behind him the Boston winds are highly characterful and though there is some crunch and other such aural damage (especially in tuttis) it will detain only the pickiest of listener. Elman is not quite certain in his passagework at the end of the movement – though the harmonics are negotiated well enough – but one can hear how eventful and tactful is Tchaikovsky’s orchestration when a fine conductor is in charge clarifying lines. The orchestra emerge newly distinctive in the slow movement – flute and clarinet principals especially. Elman’s phrasing rises and falls, ever more rapturous and involved, his line taking on more and more a sense of direction, the orchestral string blending under Paray of real distinction. In the finale the orchestral accents are commensurately strong; this is the one movement where the excitement of a live performance impels Elman to a fleeter performance than his earlier commercial recording though oddly it’s not necessarily more overpoweringly exciting.
The Tchaikovsky is a reminder of Elman’s eminence; in the first decade of the century it was he who was the most fêted of young fiddlers and the Tchaikovsky was for a decade or more "his" concerto. The Mendelssohn dates from November 1953. His slightly earlier commercial recording with Defauw and the Chicago Symphony has always been highly regarded whilst the twilight Vanguard session in Vienna that produced the later disc, with the State Opera Orchestra under Golschmann has not. Again Elman’s overall conception changed little and the difference in timings between Mitropoulos and Golschmann are negligible. Elman is perhaps guilty of some rough playing in the opening movement of the Concerto; some rather inelegant expressive pointing is another particular feature (but how irrepressibly Elman it sounds). With the highlighting comes a rather static introspection and an equally glutinous tonal projection that can too dramatically personalise the line. Nevertheless against this one can cite the finger position changes that remind one of the old lion and the beautiful strands of lyrical weight he can and does lavish – even if the vibrato itself is now slowing and the tempos ossifying somewhat in terms of phrasal interconnectedness. In the Andante he no longer possesses the elfin projection or sense of relaxation that the greatest interpreters of this work bring to it (if indeed he ever really did – his recording with Defauw, though of course highly personalised, was highly impressive). He does rather distend the movement (to 7.50). He is jaunty and unmotoric in the finale; he never used it as a piece of showmanship as other, less scrupulous colleagues did. He also makes a couple of fluffs on the lower strings but these are minor details – even if the final bars are rather grandiosely emphatic.
The recordings have been handled with skill; the attendant problems are really insignificant ones and won’t be in any way problematic. As one who welcomes anything by Elman, no matter how minor, these major live performances have a still compelling part to play in expanding and widening the Elman discography; that they are ancillary to the main body of his recordings is undeniable but wise heads will want to hear them and reflect on Elman’s place in the hierarchy of great violinists.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 35 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Mischa Elman (Violin)
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1878; Russia
Date of Recording: 12/01/1945
Concerto for Violin in E minor, Op. 64 by Felix Mendelssohn
Mischa Elman (Violin)
New York Philharmonic
Written: 1844; Germany
Date of Recording: 11/15/1953
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