Vaughan Williams
The Lark Ascending*
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Elgar
Serenade in E minor for Strings, Op.20
Salut d’amour, Op.12*
Chanson de matin, Op.15/2
Chanson de nuit, Op.15/1
Elgar, arr. Julian Milone
In Moonlight [from In the South (Alassio) – Concert Overture, Op.50]**
Elgar
Introduction and Allegro, for string quartet and string orchestra, Op.47
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Pinchas Zukerman (violin* & viola**)

Recorded 8 & 9 September 2015 in Cadogan Hall, London
CD No: DECCA 478 9386
Duration: 72 minutes
Reviewed: May 2016

Ah, the poignant rapture of Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending, which would be more so here if the transfer were less ‘loud’ and Pinchas Zukerman was not as closely balanced as he is (the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is too much a backdrop), but this excellent violinist has the expressional heart of this wonderful piece, playing with unquestionable fluency, and his flights of fancy are nicely soaring. Somehow though the music doesn’t quite hit one’s emotional requirements, and the incomparable version by Hugh Bean, Sir Adrian Boult conducting, remains never-bettered.

Without his violin, and therefore without balance problems, and now with the listener able to turn the volume up a notch (if not to its usual place), Zukerman conducts a splendid account of the Tallis Fantasia, richly sounded and expansively phrased (although the acoustic is ‘bigger’ than Cadogan Hall allows in situ); nevertheless the cathedral impression is apt and much distinction is made between the second (smaller and distant) string orchestra and the first; when the string quartet enters, the unnamed players are sensitive and shapely.

Following which Elgar’s Serenade is nicely done, urbane in the outer movements and spaciously eloquent in the central one. The disc closes with his Introduction and Allegro, a bracing and responsive reading (again it would have been good to know the members of the quartet) that courts flexibility and big passion. In between Zukerman returns to his violin to dominate Salut d’amour, albeit in a stylish, schmaltz-free rendition, and retrieves his viola for a snippet (the first recording of Julian Milone’s arrangement) from In the South, which however lovely, and Zukerman’s tone is there to savour (if foot-in-the-door chummy), really best belongs to Elgar’s magnanimous Concert Overture. The two Chansons are tenderly realised.

With serious reservations about the inflated textures (very wearying), nevertheless the music-making is impressive ... and would have been more so with greater naturalness of reproduction. The loud-as-you-like earpiece generation won’t know what I am talking about. My shell-likes were ringing!

 

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