Elgar, Vaughan Williams

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Elgar,Vaughan Williams
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Violin Concerto in B minor,The Lark Ascending
PERFORMER: Kennedy (violin); CBSO/Simon Rattle
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56413 2
In 1984 the young Nigel Kennedy won critical acclaim for his recording of the Elgar concerto with Vernon Handley. Five years later his version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons brought him both celebrity and notoriety for his yobbish outlook and outrageous dress sense. Now, after a few years self-imposed absence from ‘straight’ classical music (recent work includes material inspired by with Jimi Hendrix) he has returned to the fold with a new recording of the Elgar, this time under Simon Rattle. But just in case we assume that the passing of his fortieth birthday has made him conventional, he has chosen this moment to drop the Nigel from his name – he never liked it, so hereafter he is to be known as Kennedy.

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It would take quite something to beat the 1984 Elgar. Not for nothing was his tone praised as ‘a joy to hear’, the execution ‘immaculate’, or his approach ‘unfailingly sympathetic’. How have things changed since then? We have the same clear, rich tone, the same unfailing agility. But one could argue that Kennedy, secure in his reputation, can now afford to relax a bit or, as he puts it, to push the textbook aside. There is a palpable sense of freedom, notes pulled this way and that, some recklessness in the faster passages, and a more heart-on-sleeve approach to this richly emotional music. Overall, it makes thrilling listening, for which at least some credit must go to Rattle for an intense, dramatic, and superbly detailed accompaniment. Christopher Lambton