Notes and Editorial Reviews
Nikolaj Znaider (vn); Colin Davis, cond; Staatskapelle Dresden
RCA RED SEAL 60588 (49:35)
In his recording of Elgar’s Violin Concerto, Nikolaj Znaider plays the 1741 Kreisler Guarneri del Gesù, which makes the project particularly apt historically as we approach the hundredth anniversary of the work’s premiere by Kreisler and Elgar on November 10, 1910. The notes relate that Kreisler made use of this violin in the premiere, and if the violinist didn’t pull a notorious switch as he
had on a number of occasions in his career, using this violin in a sort of centennial recording represents a nostalgic and perhaps even revealing step into the past. In any case, Znaider warms to the concerto’s poetry as much as to its grandiloquent Romantic rhetoric. Heifetz’s taut, highly charged performance represents one pole, and Nigel Kennedy’s more meditative one (either the earlier with Handley, reissued on EMI 0946 3 45793 2 2, or the later with Rattle, EMI 7243 5 56413 2 8, however they differ, will do for the sake of comparison) represents the other. Albert Sammons and Henry Wood fall between them (the conductor on the no-nonsense side and the violinist on the ruminative one). Znaider probably comes closer to Kennedy in his delicate sensibility at the violin’s entrance and in the first movement’s lyrical second theme, though he gives an adequate account of the majestic passages in the movement’s center and achieves stunning brilliance in the technical displays throughout the movement but especially at its end.
Davis and the Staatskapelle also take a soft tack, notably at the slow movement’s opening, which they play with affectionate tenderness, later matched at the soloist’s entrance. The relaxed tempo allows Znaider to penetrate the movement’s soft core with a varied tone and a subtle sense of nuance. Although Elgar provided such detailed directions to the soloist that I once remarked to my teacher that I needed only to follow them to give a musical performance (“My teacher always told me to exhaust the printed page,” she replied), Znaider demonstrates how great a depth remains that my naive youthful enthusiasm for following directions couldn’t plumb. His hushed, poetic reading of the movement might seem the high point of the performance, did he not combine in the finale that same lyricism (as in the cadenza’s opening) with command in the strutting first theme and enough brilliance to “make” the passagework (it used to be said that Kreisler “made” Elgar’s concerto, though with so many penetrating recordings, like Sammons’s—from Kreisler’s own time—Heifetz’s, Menuhin’s with Elgar and later, Kennedy’s, and Graffin’s sympathetic restoration of the pre-Kreisler Elgar—and now Znaider, that viewpoint may increasingly seem overstated). Though certainly not hearkening back to an earlier time, Znaider employs an occasional discreet portamento that reveals at least that he’s aware of the earlier practice and can employ it effectively.
If Sammons’s recording achieved even part of its overwhelming effect by virtue of the stark contrast between the conductor and the soloist, Znaider achieves his by a close collaboration with Davis and their highly compatible outlooks. And the recorded sound reveals a wealth of detail that can so easily be concealed by the work’s thick textures while placing the soloist forward enough to satisfy those who wish for a larger-than-life presence while hardly offending those who prefer a more natural balance. The booklet quotes Davis as suggesting that he and Znaider had achieved something special, and that’s not mere hyperbole: Although Znaider’s reading may not displace the excellent recordings with which it now rubs shoulders, it deserves an honored place among the very best. Urgently recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in B minor, Op. 61 by Sir Edward Elgar
Nikolaj Znaider (Violin)
Sir Colin Davis
Written: 1909-1910; England
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