Elgar Violin Concerto

December 16, 2019, 7:55 PM · Is there a definitive recording of this piece? What recordings do you suggest?

Replies (27)

December 16, 2019, 8:30 PM · Most people cite Yehudi Menhuin's with Elgar conducting as definitive
December 16, 2019, 10:38 PM · Certainly, Elgar’s influence on the preternaturally gifted 16 year old Menuhin is a blockbuster combination...

Perlman has a juicy recording.

Fischer has (had?) an exquisitely refined live performance on YouTube.

Heifetz shaves about 10 minutes off the usual timing with his Autobahn speed limits.

December 16, 2019, 11:34 PM · I love the Heifetz recording. The Menuhin recording with the composer conducting is also a powerful rendition.
Edited: December 17, 2019, 3:11 AM · Is there a "definitive" recording of any great concerto? I hope not, or others wouldn't bother trying to compete. The early recording by Albert Sammons with Henry Wood conducting is one of my favourites. Nigel Kennedy's first recording with Vernon Handley is also very fine; better, I think, than his remake with Simon Rattle.

In my view some very accomplished players fail to capture the narrative quality of the piece. The long accompanied cadenza in the finale is key; to let the story unfold naturally requires plenty of time for reflection in between the phrases. The first version I got to know in the 1960's was Heifetz's, but now (pace Nate!) I find him rather too impatient. Back then my favourite was Alfredo Campoli's and it still stands up well.

December 17, 2019, 6:38 AM · Apparently, Heifetz admired the Sammons recording very much.
December 17, 2019, 7:14 AM · I enjoy Hahn and the Tasmin little on YouTube but I completely dislike the menuhin
Edited: December 17, 2019, 7:36 AM · Menuhin-Elgar
December 17, 2019, 7:41 AM · Anytime the composer is directly involved in a recording project, the recording becomes "definitive." (Definitive by definition?) I am of the opinion that the tempos and other myriad choices that the composer may have made are not necessarily the best choices for a given soloist, ensemble, venue, occasion, etc.
December 17, 2019, 7:42 AM · Kyung Wha Chung with Solti.
December 17, 2019, 8:19 AM · It has been argued that Elgar's tendency towards fast tempi, particularly in his recordings of the symphonies, was partly due to the time constraints imposed by 78rpm discs. And of course Menuhin's technique wasn't the equal of a lot of today's players. Raymond, do you really want "definitive" or "most satisfying"?
Edited: December 17, 2019, 8:33 AM · The Elgar Cto is unusually long for a concerto (though a couple concertos from this era were like this, think also of the Reger concertos), and one of the challenges of a recording is making the listener listen to the entire piece, rather than reach for the remote after twenty minutes.

I have had many recordings of the Elgar cto and the one that made realise what a blast the finale is, because I effortlessly made it all the way thru, is the (now) ten years old recording by Nikolaj Znaider, with the Dresdener Staatskapelle conducted by Colin Davis.

December 17, 2019, 11:20 AM · There is a severely anti-Elgar website that claims Kreisler (for whom it was written) tried to have cuts put in. And that was the reason they went for Menuhin in the 1930s recording. Standard excuses were Kreisler's fees and his age, but the other isn't out of the question.

As far as tempi go, I haven't compared Elgar's recordings to any metronome marks he left behind. But, in general, I find his brisker sense of line makes the music much easier to tolerate. Solti did well to pick up on that, and Heifetz's approach also works quite well.

Take that from someone who is not a fan, with more than the usual grain of salt.

December 17, 2019, 11:30 AM · Hugh Bean did a very good recording with the R.L.P.O. under Charles Groves.
Not widely available.
It did transfer to C.D.
Both very under-rated artists.
(Hugh Bean did what's probably the finest Lark Ascending with Boult).
December 17, 2019, 12:04 PM · I agree with Malcolm Turner about the recording by Hugh Bean. Another very fine one is that by Alfredo Campoli and the London Philharmonic under Sir Adrian Boult.
Edited: December 17, 2019, 12:54 PM · Stephen - I know the site you mention. The man is totally deranged and I don't think we should repeat his poison here.
Edited: December 17, 2019, 5:48 PM · Thanks everyone for the suggestions. I listened to the Nigel Kennedy recording (borrowed the CD from the library). But I found I needed to turn the volume up considerably, especially during the third movement. The recording was made digitally in 1984, when I suppose digital recording was still in its infancy.
Edited: December 18, 2019, 8:29 PM · There is a more recent recording by Aruzhan Zhylanbayev (with the Almaty Oblast Philharmonic) but it was done by a smaller label in her native Kazakhstan so you might not have heard it. And yes, she's the daughter of the famous marathon runner from Ekibastuz.
December 18, 2019, 11:46 AM · I think you mean Kazakhstan (I looked it up on Wikipedia:). It happens to be the largest landlocked country in the world(I had thought Mongolia held that distinction). Good Jeopardy question!

In 1931 Heifetz premiered the concerto in the US with the Boston Symphony. I will see if I can find a review in the Boston Symphony archive site.

December 18, 2019, 3:21 PM · Raymond, that isn't correct. Heifetz played the Elgar concerto in New York in 1922...and Benno Rabinof in 1927. Additionally, Fritz Kreisler played the concerto in the 1920's with the Cleveland Orchestra.
December 18, 2019, 4:21 PM · Thanks Andrew for that correction. I had used only one source.


December 18, 2019, 8:33 PM · Didn't Thibaud ever record it?
Edited: December 19, 2019, 12:38 AM · I’m glad Malcolm brought up Hugh Bean. He was a fabulous violinist and concertmaster with the Philharmonia under Klemperer. I haven’t heard his recording of the concerto yet unfortunately. He made a fabulous recording of the Elgar Sonata. Everything I’ve listened to of his is top notch.
December 19, 2019, 8:12 AM · Nate and Ron,
Thank you for the support.
When I was young (a long time ago) I played with a local amateur orchestra in Hornchurch, Essex. The conductor was Denis Clift - previously 1st trumpet in the L.S.O..
Hugh did a couple of concertos with us. Lovely man as well as a great player.
The orchestra couldn't afford a big payment to soloists.
Hugh wouldn't accept a penny. Not even his petrol expenses. The orchestra had to buy a present for his wife to get him to accept anything.
December 19, 2019, 9:42 AM ·
December 19, 2019, 9:46 AM · Unfortunately, Hugh Bean's recording of the Elgar is no longer available. However, the excellent recording of Campoli and Boult has been reissued by Decca and is currently available on CD.
December 20, 2019, 3:20 PM · James Ehnes, with Hugh Bean getting and honorable mention.

I haven't fact checked this particularly, but I think Hugh Bean taught a significant proportion of the front-desk players in UK orchestras. Someone may be able to chime in with actual factual information....

December 20, 2019, 9:09 PM · Hilary Hahn's recording is worth hearing (her Lark Ascending on the same CD is fantastic). I heard her play the Elgar live in Santa Rosa many years ago, and it was spectacular. She could take six bows for a note, with the bow changes completely inaudible, and get a massive sound as a result.

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