Elgar: Violin Concerto in B minor

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Violin Concerto in B minor; Cadenza accompagnata; The Crown of India – Interlude; Polonia
PERFORMER: Tasmin Little (violin); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Andrew Davis


Elgar didn’t actually call his Violin Concerto ‘Symphony-Concerto’, but the impression builds during this performance that he could have done so with justice. Tasmin Little isn’t afraid of lingering, of enjoying a fine vista here or an agreeable parenthesis there. There’s plenty of fire and earthy intensity in her playing too, but it’s rare that the sense of underlying purpose isn’t present. 

The prevailing sense is that she and Andrew Davis have their sights on the splendid final major-key transformation of the Concerto’s opening motif throughout, as determinedly and heroically as any team of Edwardian explorers. It’s compelling, often exciting, but there’s a balancing suspicion that something of the Concerto’s complexity and ambiguity suffers in the process.

Nothing wrong with being stirred and uplifted by that final triumphant gesture, but should it banish memories of that still more extraordinary, inward-probing finale cadenza? Surely that’s where Elgar reveals his secret heart. The alternative take on the cadenza (made to be squeezed onto a single 78) is intriguing, though it’s pretty clear the addition of a harp was a compromise, forced on Elgar by the limitations of the old acoustic recording equipment – it can’t match the delicious eeriness of Elgar’s original thrummed string pizzicatos. 


For an encompassing sense of the multifaceted, haunting beauty of this score, no modern version beats the 1929 Albert Sammons version, sounding astonishing fresh, clear and immediate in a fine Naxos transfer. The spacious Chandos recording seems more focused in the SACD version than on plain CD, where big fortes can be a bit boomy. Stephen Johnson