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Nikolaj Znaider Channels Kreisler in Elgar

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Elgar, Violin Concerto, N. Znaider, Staatskapelle Dresden, C. Davis

(released on January 5, 2010)
Sony Red Seal 88697 60588 2

available at Amazon
Simon Mundy, Elgar
We have already recommended next week's National Symphony Orchestra concerts (January 7 to 9) as something that will likely be one of the high points of that ensemble's season. The orchestra is supposed to be welcoming back former music director Leonard Slatkin to its podium, although complications from the heart attack he suffered while conducting the Rotterdam Philharmonic last month have delayed some of his plans to return to conducting since then. The main course of the program is a welcome chance to hear Elgar's violin concerto, with none other than Nikolaj Znaider as soloist. We have admired this Danish violinist's velvety tone many times before, both before and after he was loaned a rather extraordinary instrument, the "ex-Kreisler" Guarnerius heard last on Znaider's recording of the Brahms violin concerto. Znaider has now taken advantage of that instrument's history by recording and playing on tour the violin concerto that Edward Elgar wrote for Kreisler and his Guarnerius.

Until recently, Nigel Kennedy's recordings of the Elgar concerto were the ones to own. A few years ago Philippe Graffin made an excellent version with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, under the baton of the excellent Vernon Handley, that for the first time attempted to strip away Fritz Kreisler's many changes to the violin part (Jessica Duchen wrote about the manuscripts Graffin consulted in the British Library). Given how Kreisler later treated the Elgar concerto -- often playing it in a drastically cut version and refusing to record it -- the question of whether Elgar's original version or the one that incorporated Kreisler's changes should be considered the best is open to debate. Znaider's liner notes make no mention of the Graffin reconstruction, for obvious reasons, like invoking the mantle of Fritz Kreisler. It would not do to "de-Kreislerize" the concerto while playing on the "ex-Kreisler."

Not that what one hears here should be thought of as how Kreisler might have played the Elgar concerto, something that we can never really know in the absence of a recording. What one does hear is Znaider's elegant line in a work that is really centered on lonely, intimate scenes, with some big playing required as well, to be sure. Simon Mundy writes in his recent book Elgar about the concerto's sub-dedication, a quote from Gil Blas ("Here is enshrined the soul of ..."), calling it "another of Elgar's enigmas." Elgar described the piece as full of Romantic longing, that "the music sings of memories and hope" but for whom? Mundy thinks Alice Stuart-Wortley was the name replaced by the ellipsis, and it makes sense. Alice inspired Elgar to work past his block as he composed the concerto, finding a melody to bridge the two themes he had composed some time earlier for the first movement, which he called "windflower" themes, after a spring wildflower (Anemone nemorosa) he came to associate with Stuart-Wortley. According to Michael Kennedy in The Life of Elgar, the composer
told Ivor Atkins that he would like the nobilmente theme of the slow movement (five bars after cue 53) to be inscribed on his tombstone. In that theme, we may feel, the soul of Edward Elgar is enshrined.
Nikolaj Znaider will play the Elgar violin concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra next week (January 7 to 9), in a program that pairs it with Holst's The Planets.

Jessica Duchen and Bob Shingleton have another theory about Elgar's mysterious dedications in the Violin Concerto and the Enigma Variations.

1 comment:

Felix said...

"Until recently, Nigel Kennedy's recordings of the Elgar concerto were the ones to own. "

You forgot to mention James Ehnes' recording with Andrew Davis and the Philharmonia. That knocks socks off Graffin and Kennedy put together.