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INDIVIDUAL - BUT ULTIMATELY DISAPPOINTING ELGAR
on 23 February 2013
I listened to this new and well-publicised recording of Elgar's classic concerto with much interest and anticipation.
However, with several other fine recordings of the work in my library, this is not a performance I personally would generally reccomend -particularly to anyone coming to the work for the first time.
Since Jacqueline du Pres' famous landmark -and now historic- recording of 1965, it has arguably been rather difficult for any subsequent cellist to stamp their own individual interpretation on the work without straying far from Elgar's own directions regarding tempi/dynamics etc in the score.
The concerto was Elgar's last substantial composition; and although its character appears full of a wistful reminiscence -almost a memorial perhaps- to the era which formed the substantial part of his long life, before the reckless waste of World War I, Elgar was very much a 'man of his time.' Edwardians -especially men- were not given to overt emotion or wearing of 'hearts on sleeves' -as his own recordings show.
Although the justly famous du Pres/Barbirolli EMI performance is a bold,dramatic and often poignant reading, I do not find it ever succumbs to melodrama (unlike perhaps the later du Pres/Barenboim recording.) There is surely a world of diffference between a performer bringing their own personality to an interpretation and merely using a composition as a vehicle of personal expression.
However -though not in any way criticising Alisa Weilerstein's generous tone and impeccable technique, I personally find that indulgent tamperings with Elgar's markings are often too extreme -to the point that some important phrases lose all sense of any 'line' or direction, such is the length to which they are drawn out. (To cite just one example: -the closing phrases of the famous Adagio.)
The Carter concerto is another matter. Here both Weilerstein and Barenboim serve this composer well.
However, for anyone coming to the Elgar conerto for the first time, I would personally suggest perhaps the Yo Yo Ma/Previn recording (whilst it is still available on this site -either at present as 'Used' or as a download.)Though never in any manner self-indulgent, it is nevertheless a most committed performance - yet far more faithful to Elgar's score.