COMPOSERS: Edward Elgar,Ralph Vaughan Williams
ALBUM TITLE: Edward Elgar • Ralph Vaughan Williams
WORKS: Elgar: Serenade for Strings; Salut d’amour; Chanson de matin; Chanson de nuit; In Moonlight (arr. Milone); Introduction and Allegro; Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending; Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
PERFORMER: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Pinchas Zukerman (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: Decca 478 9836
Pinchas Zukerman’s violin playing has lost nothing of its masterful immensity, gorgeousness of tone, and likeable directness of manner over the years, and to hear those qualities at work in The Lark Ascending is a memorable experience. Perhaps less predictable, and entirely as striking, is the success with which those same qualities transfer to his conducting. There’s no trace of portentousness in Zukerman’s approach to the vast musical spaces searched out by the Tallis Fantasia; yet this seemingly no-nonsense interpretation has a strongly characterised, tight-reined majesty that can hold its own even among the formidable recorded competition. Vaughan Williams’s deployment of the work’s different-sized string groups, devised with a cathedral acoustic in mind, really needs a more spacious acoustic than London’s Cadogan Hall. Then again, the focused grandeur of tone generated by the RPO strings is more than powerful enough to compensate.
The same level of music-making – almost – is on offer in the sequence of Elgar works. Besides the violin part of Salut d’amour, Zukerman plays solo viola for In Moonlight, an arrangement of the haunting ‘canto popolare’ interlude from In the South; he also conducts the Serenade in E minor, Chanson de matin and Chanson de nuit, and the roistering musical riches of the Introduction and Allegro. Something of Elgar’s idiom eludes him – the ‘smiling with a sigh’ quality which John Barbirolli and Norman Del Mar could conjure so unerringly. That said, these are still beautifully delivered, mannerism-free interpretations, with quality playing to match.