Fans of Tasmin Little--especially those of us on the other side of "the pond" who cannot easily attend her concerts--must have been overjoyed to see she had recorded the Elgar violin concerto. My copy went straight from the mailbox to the player. I think a prior reviewer, Mr. Voogd, has the essence of the matter completely right. This is an undemonstrative performance that in its quiet way adds up to something gigantic. The piece encompasses a paradox reminiscent of those grand canvasses which are also intimate and personal. Tasmin Little, it seems, has a personality that uniquely fits Elgar's conception. She has a large, capacious technique and also a fine understanding of the composer's heart. Rather than subsume her own personality or use it for the sake of display, she matches it to the composer's expressiveness. The result, perhaps, is a recording that will make Tasmin Little synonymous with Elgar's concerto in something of the way that Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is identified with Richard Strauss's Marschallin. Comparisons are not always helpful, but I suspect that the best recordings of this concerto might be the first of the electrics--Albert Sammons with Henry Wood, in the late 'twenties--and this one.
A fascinating pendant to the complete recording is a reconstruction of the accompanied cadenza, in the final movement, that Elgar created for an acoustic recording of the concerto in 1916. The present performance by Ms. Little and orchestra serves to show --in case anyone ever doubted it-- that the cadenza is the heart and soul of the concerto. I only wish that the producers of this CD had added a separate band in the full concerto recording to let one listen from the start of the cadenza. That aside, the Chandos presentation--including recorded sound, informative booklet and graphic design--is in every way examplary.
If, after the concerto and its effective encore, you've got enough emotional space for more music, the interlude for violin & orchestra from "The Crown of India" is most agreeable and is lovingly performed; it ends too soon. The finale, "Polonia," a tribute to Poland written during the First World War, is out of character with the rest of the music; a squall of sound that will annoy your neighbors if you don't turn down the volume.
Fans of Elgar and of Tasmin Little will need no encouragement to get this concerto. I would simply say buy multiple copies, which in the holiday season will let you give something of extraordinary beauty for a modest price.