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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great CD with one weakness, 17 Jan 2008
This review is from: Elgar: Violin Concerto / Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending (Audio CD)
There is no doubt that this is a great CD. The performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams' `The Lark Ascending' is outstanding . The case is made for Elgar's Violin Concerto being the greatest of his major orchestral works; however the performance has a weakness as well as its strengths, as I will explain.

The pairing of Simon Rattle and Nigel Kennedy is inspired. The great conductor anchors Kennedy's playing in a rock solid foundation of perfectly judged orchestral playing. He brings his wealth of experience in giving life to the rich sound worlds of early 20th century composers to the project. The same feeling he has shown for composers such as the better known Mahler, and the more exotic Szymanowski is shown here. Rattle's great gift is be able to conjure great richness of texture from an orchestra, while at the same time bringing clarity to the music. This brings great dividends in these recordings. I have never heard Elgar sound so luxuriant before, or so precise. The effect is most telling as the slow second movement gives way to the third. The last few minutes of the slow movement are succulently beautiful, the musical language appears to move beyond the Elgar we have known and acquires a richness akin to Delius or indeed Vaughan Williams. In contrast the opening bars of the finale are fired with an intensity that equals early Stravinsky. Kennedy gives his all, and the listener is treated to jaw dropping turn of phrase after turn of phrase. What then is missing?

This is a great bringing to life of the notes on the page of music, but it is wafer thin as an interpretation of the work itself. Yes, rip any page of this score from the Violin Concerto and it can be argued that no one could have done a finer job than has been done here. But what about that which the music intends to convey? Elgar wrote `Here is enshrined the soul of .....' on the score. But perfect as it is as abstract music making, this performance has no soul. I keep on comparing it with my favourite performance of the concerto: with Pinchas Zukerman as soloist and Daniel Barenboim conducting. Now, they know how to give life to the soul of this music.

Everything that works well in the Violin Concerto works even better in Vaughan Williams' `The Lark Ascending'. This work, with its almost continuous violin line appears to present the soloist with a choice: to go for the conjuring of the atmosphere of the piece and its descriptive elements, or to revel in a display of virtuosity. Kennedy chooses a different path, sometimes playing in one direction, sometimes in the other. The approach works well, as ever aided by the rock solid playing of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Simon Rattle. The effect on the work is that although the description of the Flight of the Lark is obscured, Vaughan Williams' evocation of the countryside he loved takes centre stage: you can almost feel the heat haze rising from the sun kissed heathland. Vaughan Williams' musical influences are taken up with enthusiasm. This is less folksy that many interpretation, especially in the central faster section, as soloist and orchestra home in on the church mode scales the composer uses to express his melody. Everything hangs together perfectly. Of at least 8 interpretations of this work on CD I have heard, I now count this the best.

So, with one area of reservation this is a great CD. I am left with a problem, how do I rate it? For all the beauty conveyed in this version of the Elgar's Violin Concerto deeper issues of interpretation matter. However, given the many delights in this performance, and the strength of The Lark Ascending here, I am going to give this five stars.

Just take note of this last comment. In no way is this performance of the Violin Concerto definitive. Enjoy it for what it is, but do hear what other, deeper interpretations have brought out of it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kennedy is more dramatic in this second recording with Rattle, 19 May 2013
By 
I. Giles (Argyll, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Elgar: Violin Concerto / Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending (Audio CD)
This disc, well recorded by EMI in 1997, comes into direct competition with Kennedy's earlier recording made in 1984. On that occasion he was paired with the experienced Elgarian conductor, Vernon Handley, and on this newer disc he is teamed with Simon Rattle. Collectors will want to know what the main differences are apart from the obvious comment that the new disc offers a fine performance of The Lark Ascending.

The two recordings are very similar in overall timings with the first movement being 47 seconds faster in the newer recording, the second movement being 68 seconds slower and the last movement being 14 seconds faster. The biggest difference in timings therefore is in the second movement with a markedly slower overall time. This difference is sufficient to affect the overall balance.

The outer movements are both faster overall, but more importantly, there is a marked increase in dramatic drive in the outer movements - especially the first. Taken with the much slower central movement it would be reasonable to say that Kennedy's later performance is one of greater extremes, between the more inwardly reflective elements of the concerto and the more extrovert and driven elements. These features are also there in the earlier version but are less marked. Some would therefore prefer the first version as having a more balanced overall perspective. Both versions are very satisfying but one might as well be listening to two performances by two different players.

On that thought there are others that I would also draw attention to. Those would include the recordings by Menuhin/Boult, impossible to ignore, then more recent recordings by Zehetmair, Ehnes, Shaham and Little all of whom provide recordings and interpretations as fine as that by Kennedy. There is also the older Zukerman which is much loved by many as well as the new one by Znaider.

This multi-faceted work has many multi-faceted interpretations to consider. All of these offer valuable insights but the variable nature of the concerto make it impossible to single out a clear winner. The best one can do is suggest a range of fine alternatives and the above list will serve as a starting point. Purchasers should be able to get considerable satisfaction from all of them, as I have done, and any one will give enough of the whole story to suffice. However, collectors of multiple interpretations will feel the need to keep adding to their collection as this is a more complex work than many and will yield more than the usual variety of viable alternatives.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A deeply satisfying reading, transporting us to Elgar's reflective world, 5 Nov 2011
By 
Andrew R. Barnard (Leola, Pa United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Elgar: Violin Concerto / Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending (Audio CD)
Sir Edward Elgar's Violin Concerto is a work that takes the listener into a rare world of autumnal reflection and regret. Elgar is famous for his rich melancholy, but it comes to the surface in the violin and cello concertos in a way it never does elsewhere. Its soaring melodies makes it one of the world's greatest ever violin concertos. Perhaps what is most striking about the work is how it is so sad, yet so rejuvenating at the same time, in a way that only the cello concerto can match. It's all too neglected on this side of the pond, and any recording of it should be greeted with adulation.

But Kennedy and Rattle's performance of the work is extra special. Both artists are authorities in the English world (Rattle is obviously England's brightest star on the Classical scene) and are fully prepared for the challenges that accompany performing the work. Unlike some violin concertos, this is not predominately a virtuosic work. Sure, the violin writing is brilliant and a strong technique is imperative, but we're only talking about a small portion of the difficulties. The concerto asks for the listener to look beyond the notes and into the realm of thoughtfulness Elgar has created. The interpretive challenges are very real, asking for real emotion balanced by control. Only the most mature of musicians can fulfill this potential. Of course Kennedy had already proved that he could master the concerto, with his earlier reading of the concerto with Handley and the LPO, also on EMI. That recording was a success, but here Kennedy is more inspired, free to unleash his emotions in a more powerful way. Handley is no Rattle, and the man at the podium here is hard to beat. In particular, Rattle sees the depth and range of emotion, creating tension by contrasting sorrow and hope. I think this is exactly what Elgar wanted, and Kennedy isn't a step behind Rattle. Both musicians know just how to guide our ears to appreciating the emotion in the work, without leaving any of it out or overdoing it. I don't know what you're thinking, but to me, there's simply nothing left to ask of musicians who can make the work into a moving, beautiful journey that leaves one in deep thought.

When I first realized that Kennedy had recorded The Lark Ascending with Rattle, I thought, "You mean that crazy guy with the spiked hair is going to understand Vaughan Williams' pastoral sentiments? Leave me alone!" At that point I thought my classic Brown/Marriner/ASMF account was unbeatable. The other recordings I had heard previously, including Chang/Haitink, Hahn/Davis, and Benedetti/Litton left me firmly decided that there was no beating Brown in the work. Until I heard Kennedy, that is. He had my own my knees, fighting the tears. It's unfair to give him all the credit, however, as Rattle deserves at least half the prize. Marriner is a great conductor, but he's not on the same level as Rattle, who pulls out details in the piece that I didn't know were there. There's more to the piece than mere pastoralism, and Kennedy and Rattle know this. Oh the sheer beauty of their sound! Words don't describe this kind of music making, so I let you discover it for yourself. Just know that you're in for a treat.

In closing, this is a fantastic disc. Prepare to sit back and do some serious thinking on life, as that is what the music will inevitably make you want to do.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Soaring, 19 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Elgar: Violin Concerto / Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending (Audio CD)
This is a lovely recording and I am delighted with it. There was a slight problem but the seller dealt with it satisfactorily and I can recommend both the CD and the seller.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The BEST modern recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto, 11 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Elgar: Violin Concerto / Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending (Audio CD)
I've listened to a lot of recordings of this and, other than the two famous vintage recordings, this is in my opinion the best. Also, miles better than Kennedy's earlier recording with Vernon Handley. Dramatic, virtuosic and nicely structured. It's worth it for the last few minutes of the first movement alone.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely recording, 23 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Elgar: Violin Concerto / Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending (Audio CD)
Bought this after watching Nigel Kennedy on the proms
playing Lark Ascending on the Last Night of The Proms.
Delightful!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Just brilliant, 16 Oct 2013
By 
Michael Bilton "WakeupAmerica!" (Hampshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Elgar: Violin Concerto / Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending (Audio CD)
Just brilliant, well worth every penny - recommend it to anyone, if only they had the time to make the purchase.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great performance, 27 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Elgar: Violin Concerto / Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending (Audio CD)
I am no fan of Nigel Kennedy as I find his weird clothes and affected working class accent irritating. However when he picks up the violin he has real magic in his hands. I already had his earlier performance of this work which really did set the standard. This newer one is freer and more rhapsodic. It does not replace the earlier performance but rather complements it. There is also a magical performance of the Vaughan Williams. Rattle companies superbly. A fine disc of a great performance.
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21 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb recording., 5 Jan 2001
By 
Mr. D. W. Holbrook (Brisbane) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Elgar: Violin Concerto / Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending (Audio CD)
One of the most outstanding recordings I have heard. What a lot of people in an Orchestra; (they are all credited in the sleeve notes), and they all work together to produce a fantastic sound.
Thirty three violins, however one violin stands out; Kennedy is superb, fluid emotion comes from his strings. Throughout the three movements of the violin concerto the audio experience just gets better; the playing drawing you in. An auditory extravaganza which will leave you wanting to play it again, and again. The lark ascending is also superb and stands well on its own or as a follow on piece.
This CD is the best value for money recording you could purchase, because every second of 71:52 available is, well, basically, music to your ears...
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Sublime!, 21 Nov 2008
By 
Scriabinmahler (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Elgar: Violin Concerto / Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending (Audio CD)
I've listened to many recordings of the concerto including Kennedy's earlier recording, but I think this later one with Rattle, Kyoko Takezawa's RCA version (Elgar - Orchestral Works) and Kung Wha Chung/Solti's account (Elgar: Violin Concerto in B minor, Salut d'amour, La Capricieuse.) come on top of my list.

Kennedy/Rattle performance is more expanssive (slowest among these three recordings) and there are many breath taking moments of serenity in the most sublime rendition of the slow movement, and also some movingly beautiful moments in the first and the last movement. Kennedy's playing is intensely beautiful and more masculine than his earlier performance. His tone is very focussed and rich. Rattle captures the mood swing and the longing in Elgar's music perfectly and draws deeply felt playing from the orchestra.

This is definitely a must-buy CD, alongside Chung and Takezawa's equally outstanding recordings!
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