Elgar Violin Concerto – Thomas Zehetmair & Mark Elder

0 of 5 stars

The Kingdom, Op.51 – Prelude
Violin Concerto in B minor, Op.61
The Dream of Gerontius, Op.38 – Prelude; Angel’s Farewell

Thomas Zehetmair (violin)

Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano)

Sir Mark Elder

Recorded 23 March 2005 (The Kingdom), 3-4 May 2008 (Violin Concerto) & 15-19 July 2008 in Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: March 2010
Duration: 75 minutes



The ‘Prelude’ to “The Kingdom” is given a remarkably dramatic and dynamic performance, the tension maintained even throughout the most-delicate lace-like passages, Mark Elder digging deep into the sublime solemnity of the score, relishing the orchestration, and he and the Hallé finding a wealth of nobility and humanity in the most moving and compelling terms.

Music-making as dramatic and heartfelt as this gripping ten minutes sets the scene for an account of Elgar’s Violin Concerto that is lean, muscular and edgy. If sweet sentiment is thought to be lacking, there is no lack of indulgence and flexibility on Elder’s part in the lengthy orchestra introduction. Thomas Zehetmair contributes an intense and wiry account of the solo part, certainly nuanced and expressive but not overt, confidential as required but without mawkishness, and as virtuosic as needed without denuding the work’s expanse and carefully calculated flexibility and contours. Elder and the Hallé are close partners, shadowing, complementing and stepping up to the mark, Elder not afraid to rough things up a little, but with tenderness not sacrificed.

Nikolaj Znaider’s recording of this work with Colin Davis has appeared on the scene at much the same time. Znaider is a little more demonstrative, and a little pernickety, but there’s no doubt he loves the work. He is though just a little closely recorded, whereas this Hallé performance is beautifully balanced. Even though Znaider is somewhat dominant in his version, nothing dwarfs Sir Colin’s contribution and there are some indelible touches from here that Mark Elder does not quite match despite his sympathy and attention to detail. Yet, Zehetmair and Elder make this piece a compelling whole, everything has its place in a greater scheme; in comparison Znaider and Davis have many wonderful moments. Both shed new light on a great work and it has been an absorbing time getting to know both and deepen one’s appreciation of the music itself. From Zehetmair and Elder the slow movement is rather private, the closing bars rapt, and the finale has real purpose so that when the ‘accompanied cadenza’ arrives it seems an inevitable point of repose and reflection before the work climbs out of slumber to triumph. In short, this in an inspired performance and one would not want to be without either this or Znaider’s recording.

Following Zehetmair’s performance of the Violin Concerto, an account that gets more and more insightful and convincing on repeated listening, two excerpts from “The Dream of Gerontius” complete the disc. The ‘Prelude’ is presumably excerpted from Elder’s complete recording rather than being an alternative take, but ‘The Angel’s Farewell’ is newly released, for it is of “Elgar’s own version without chorus”, to quote the slightly questionable annotation, to which Michael Kennedy’s booklet note implies that this section can and has been played by orchestra alone – indeed Elgar conducted it thus – to which is here added the mezzo-soprano, a Henry Wood supplement when conducting excerpts from the score. With Alice Coote a consoling Angel, these seven minutes make a poignant conclusion to a very desirable release.

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