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Great Violinists - Albert Sammons - Elgar, Delius

Release Date: 03/19/2002 
Label:  Naxos Historical Catalog #: 8110951   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Frederick DeliusSir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Albert Sammons
Conductor:  Sir Malcolm SargentSir Henry Wood
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic OrchestraNew Queen's Hall Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

In his notes for this release, Tully Potter makes two of the stupidest remarks that I have ever seen in print. First, he characterizes Menuhin's 1932 performance of the Elgar concerto (with the composer conducting) as "nicely played, to be sure, but sounding more and more like the work of a 16-year-old with each of its manifold reissues..." whatever that means. He later goes on to assert: "Few recordings of a late-Romantic violin concerto have come near this one, and none has surpassed it." Oh really? Prove it, Mr. Potter. As for his swipe at the Menuhin performance, why praise one fine recording by denigrating another? The two take very different approaches to the work. Music is not a zero-sum game; excellence at one Read more interpretation does not invalidate equal accomplishment in another. This sort of nonsensical blather does nothing to further Potter's cause, and indeed only gives the impression that he has partisan axes to grind with some of his colleagues in the English press. Well, bully for him--on to musical matters.

Albert Sammons' 1929 Elgar performance (the work's first electrical recording) certainly holds up well, though not quite as well as Potter would have us believe. It begins splendidly, with Henry Wood providing a robust, no-nonsense accompaniment. For most of the first two movements, Sammons plays the pants off the piece. His fearless double-stopping in the closing minutes of the opening movement commands admiration, and he invests the gorgeous slow movement with great dignity and warmth at a naturally flowing tempo. The finale, while technically up to snuff, holds a great disappointment in the central accompanied cadenza. Here Sammons proves himself extremely insensitive to Elgar's extraordinarily detailed dynamic markings, playing consistently too loudly (the recording, with its limited dynamic range and inability to reproduce the solo's highest frequencies with the necessary tonal purity doesn't help), and the prosaic result lacks imagination, color, and the inward qualities that Menuhin (and many others) have captured so well.

An interesting footnote: Sammons' performance is the fastest on disc with the notable exception of Heifetz/Sargent. That version, frequently castigated for its excessive haste, offers violin playing of a standard that Sammons can't match, and Heifetz delivers a cadenza of extraordinary refinement and beauty. So, for that matter, does Perlman in his DG recording (under Barenboim), another performance frequently trashed in the U.K. for being too speedy and "high gloss" (though it's about four minutes slower than Sammons'), and the single version that most successfully threads the needle between the Sammons or Heifetz and the slower renditions such as Elgar's own or the incredibly distended Kennedy/Rattle. In short, there have been plenty of excellent recordings of this splendid concerto that match or surpass this one in one respect or another. This of course does not diminish its numerous qualities at all, but neither does it set any sort of unmatchable standard, notwithstanding Mr. Potter's silly contrary assertions. The proof is there for anyone willing to sit down and listen without preconceptions or prejudice.

As for the Delius performance, Sammons was the work's dedicatee, and although by 1944 his technique wasn't quite what it had been, he understands the music and phrases those endless rhapsodic lines with effortless mastery. Pay particular attention to the way he sustains the thread of the musical argument in the calmer central section; the key, once again, is a sensibly flowing tempo. Competition is less thick on the ground than in the Elgar. The late Ralph Holmes on Unicorn has his admirers, though he sounds positively droopy next to Sammons and Sargent. Tasmin Little and Charles Mackerras offer a performance of similar quality (much better orchestra, actually), though their Argo recording may be very difficult to find at present (it's been re-released as part of Decca's British Composers series in the U.K.). On the whole, Sammons' Delius holds up better and tells us more about the music than does his Elgar.

Now for the sound. Aside from the caveats noted above that no transfer wizardry can satisfactorily address, Mark Obert-Thorn's work on the Elgar deserves the highest praise. He captures the orchestra with remarkable richness and clarity, though a lot of the credit must also go to the composer. Like the Sibelius concerto, Elgar miraculously contrives to permit every note of the solo part to register without the orchestra ever sounding inhibited or unduly restrained. It's a subtle achievement that often goes unappreciated. For the same reason, although it enjoys much better reproduction as such (greater dynamic range, sense of acoustic space, a more natural violin tone), in the Delius the solo sometimes gets lost in the general welter of tone at louder moments, however few and far between they may be. Fans of this violinist and of both concertos will want this exceptionally affordable disc as a matter of course. If you're only looking for one recording of each work, go for Little/Mackerras for Delius, and Perlman/Barenboim for Elgar. Sammons still stands among the best and makes an excellent supplement if you want to explore the two works in greater depth, but it's pointless to pretend that you can't do just as well elsewhere, and enjoy modern sound too.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin by Frederick Delius
Performer:  Albert Sammons (Violin)
Conductor:  Sir Malcolm Sargent
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916; England 
Date of Recording: 07/04/1944 
Venue:  Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, England 
Length: 23 Minutes 42 Secs. 
Concerto for Violin in B minor, Op. 61 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Albert Sammons (Violin)
Conductor:  Sir Henry Wood
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Queen's Hall Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1909-1910; England 
Date of Recording: 04/10/1929 
Venue:  Queen's Hall, London, England 
Length: 43 Minutes 31 Secs. 

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