If I could take just one piece of music with me on a desert island, it would be the Elgar cello concerto. I owe over ten versions of this concerto, on LP, CD and SACD, fron the early 1928 recording with Beatrice Harrison and the LSO conducted by the composer himself, to the more recent version with Alisa Weilerstein. The “favourite" is, of course, a very personal choice, but as a classical music lover and student cellist this is the version of the Elgar cello concerto I go back to again and again, whether it is simply for the pleasure of listening or when I am studying the piece. To me, to date, this recording has known no equals. In 1986 Michael Kennedy - one of the world's two leading Elgar scholars - wrote an excellent review of the recording for Gramophone Magazine. Michael Kennedy was not the only critic to recognise the quality and uniqueness of the recording: Dr Jerrold Northrop Moore chose this 1985 recording of the Elgar Cello concerto as “finest ever version” for BBC Music Magazine. As far as Yehudi Menuhin conducting, well, he had recorded the Elgar violin concerto with Elgar himself conducting (also available on a very early Emi recording from 1932, I think), I think he knew very well what Elgar wanted to communicate through his music. If you are lucky enough to own the Elgar cello concerto with Julian Lloyd Webber on video, there is a lovely interview before the concert with Julian Lloyd Webber interviewing Yehudi Menuhin and asking him what memories he had of recording the violin concerto with Elgar. Menuhin replied that Elgar was of course a composer and just as his works were “a work of love” he was conducting like a gentleman. He was a Romantic at heart and in whatever he was doing, whether it was music, science, etc. This enormous passion was concealed behind his English nobility and it was in this way that he would communicate his love for the piece and within the piece to the soloist and the orchestra and ultimately to the audience. I think this can be said in the case of Menuhin conducting and Julian Llloyd Webber playing the Elgar cello concerto, too. Great command, tremendous passion but no aggression, no brutality at all.
Julian Lloyd-Webber gives wonderfully expressive and deeply felt performance of the both concertos. He produces glorious Autumnal tone, similar to Andre Navarra's, that is just right for Elgar's Cello Concerto. It is entirely different from Du Pre's heart-rendingly impassioned account, yet it glows with warmth and noble beauty and technically rock-solid. Definitely one of the great recordings of the work.
Julian Lloyd-Webber produces a fine, sure-footed performance, not lacking in feeling or intensity. On this evidence Menuhin should have been given far more opportunities to conduct, for the RPO responds superbly in both works. Even better, the sound quality is outstanding, making it a joy to focus on the reflective moments of the slow movement. The sound is reasonably bright, and the brass has plenty of bite in the Variations. Those who lean more towards soloist performance may turn to Du Pre, but in my mind Lloyd-Webber does a great job and this version has the advantage of superb digital recording. This CD should never be allowed to go out of print. Outstanding!
My mother had asked for this CD for her birthday and I was really pleased to find it on Amazon as not available elsewhere. Delivery was within the stated period, however considering overseas courier timings these days I was surprised it took so long. Sure there is an explanation - perhaps to keep costs down.