Sir Mark elder has undertaken a massive project to record a complete Elgar edition, and the installments I've heard have been committed, recorded in excellent sound (putting them ahead of classic Boult and Barbirolli recordings in at least one respect), and above criticism. but that's not the same as inspired, and the English are so dedicated to Elgar, their Wagner and Brahms rolled into one, that inspired recordings aren't hard to find. In this program we end with a touch of wagnerism, in that Elgar did an arrangement of the very beginning and end of The Dream of Gerontius much as Wagner arranged the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan for concert use. We also get the orchestral prelude to a much less well known oratorio,The Kingdom, so the Violin Cto. is bookended by two rarities.
It was brave to bypass British violinists to ask an Austrian, Thomas Zehetmair, to record the concerto, but he is familiar to UK audiences as conductor of the Northern Sinfonia, based initially in Newcastle upon Tyne, and currently in Gateshead. I am an admirer of Zehetmair, a complete musician whose playing is always personal and interesting. for that reason alone he makes a good choice a soloist, and his light, silvery approach falls gracefully on the ear - he avoids making the score sound over-stuffed and imperial. I suppose that to an Elgar devotee, nursed on three classic Menuhin recordings or a fan of Kennedy's wow-factor showmanship, Zehetmair might seem to underplay the concerto. However, I appreciated his fresh take, which I'd put on a par with Hilary Hahn's on DG.
The drawback is that the Elgar Violin Concerto is symphonic in scale, like the Brahms, and the grand orchestration makes Zehetmair sound a bit small and alone. Elder's conducting is also too straight-ahead. Elgar's writing is always pictorial, even when there's no expressed program, and it needs to create its own expansive landscape, full of vistas and robust activity. for a reading that brings orchestra and soloist together in a sumptuous way, I'd recommend Nikolaj Znaider and sir Colin Davis with a glorious Dresden Staatskapelle on BMG. For the most inspired Menuhin reading, I'd choose a live performance on BBC Legends with Boult - theirs is certainly the most moving account I've ever heard. You learn immediately what it means to "speak Elgar."
Despite the appealing fillers - with Alice Coote singing a lovely Angel's Farewell from Gerontius, minus the chorus - the main work on this CD isn't very memorable.