Natalie Clein’s opening statement is confident and clean: this is an Elgar with pace and portamento, but rather thin on poetry. Compared to the exquisite refinement of Truls Mørk (Virgin) or Yo-Yo Ma (Sony), Clein’s performance lacks detailed shaping and variety of timbre in the first movement, though she gives a clear and lively account of the Scherzo and the final Allegro. It is in the long reaches of the visionary Adagio that one begins to notice the just-tangible disjunct between orchestra and soloist: Clein would have benefited from more energy from her conductor. There has to be such a flexible fluency in this relationship, that any slightly early orchestral entry or nudging forward from the soloist muddies the narrative line. This barely-perceptible lag is not uncommon, and could no doubt have been ironed out with more time, but it does rob the Adagio of intensity and focus. It was Du Pré who revealed the chasm of boundless despair in the final Adagio and this otherworldly atmosphere eludes the present company.
The upside is the delightful selection of salon pieces at the end of this disc. In the impish La capricieuse and the touching Sospiri, we glimpse the mature, distinctive artist.