Medieval Baebes and other far greater shocks to the bourgeoisie have come along. Wild adventures placed under the rubric of performances of Vivaldi's Four Seasons are commonplace. Yet Nigel Kennedy continues to roost atop the classical sales charts in Europe, and even to command a decent following in the U.S. despite a low American tolerance for British eccentricity. How does he do it? He has kept reinventing himself successfully. Perhaps he's the classical world's version of Madonna: he's possessed of both unerring commercial instincts and with enough of a sense of style to be able to dress them up as forms of rebellion. Inner Thoughts is a collection of slow movements – inner movements of famous concertos from Bach and Vivaldi to Brahms, Bruch, and Elgar. Actually, the only composer falling into the middle of that large chronological gap is Mendelssohn; Kennedy apparently needs a sort of otherworldly serenity for this project, which Baroque and post-Romantic slow movements may have, but Mozart does not. At any rate, this is no radical idea; it's a softball straight up the middle.
Elgar’s Violin Concerto has a certain mystique about it independent of the knee-jerk obeisance it has received in the British press. It probably is the longest and most difficult of all Romantic violin concertos, requiring not just great technical facility but great concentration from the soloist and a real partnership of equals with the orchestra. And like all of Elgar’s large orchestral works, it is extremely episodic in construction and liable to fall apart if not handled with a compelling sense of the long line. In reviewing the score while listening to this excellent performance, I was struck by just how fussy Elgar’s indications often are: the constant accelerandos and ritards, and the minute (and impractical) dynamic indications that ask more questions than they sometimes answer. No version, least of all the composer’s own, even attempts to realize them all: it would be impossible without italicizing and sectionalizing the work to death.
French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras explores the late Romantic repertoire on this 2013 Harmonia Mundi release and finds a kind of mirroring of intentions and expressions between Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33, and Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto, Op. 85. While this is a rather subjective understanding of the music that listeners can either take or leave, there's no denying that Queyras, conductor Jirí Belohlávek, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra offer performances of both works that are evocative and beautiful, with or without any underlying connections.
Following the success of The Dream of Gerontius in 1900 and The Apostles in 1903, the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival commissioned Elgar to produce another large oratorio for the 1906 festival. The Kingdom continues the narrative of the lives of Jesus’ disciples, depicting the community of the early church, Pentecost, and the events of the next few days. Although less frequently performed than The Dream of Gerontius, The Kingdom is considered one of Elgar’s greatest choral works, and deserves to rank alongside it. This re-release of the 1989 recording also features Sursum Corda and Sospiri, two short, reflective instrumental pieces, release honors the legacy of the late English conductor Sir Richard Hickox.
The composer of Land of Hope and Glory is often regarded as the quintessential English gentleman, but Edward Elgar's image of hearty nobility was deliberately contrived. In reality, he was awkward, nervous, self-pitying and often rude, while his marriage to his devoted wife Alice was complicated by romantic entanglements which fired his creative energy. In this revelatory portrait, John Bridcut explores the secret conflicts in Elgar's nature which produced some of Britain's greatest music.
Hyperion has reissued on its midpriced Helios label this fine program of English works for string quartet, recorded in 1994. The composers, born approximately 20 years apart in the order given in the headnote, offer an insight into the evolutionary trends in British music before, throughout, and after the 20th century’s two Great Wars.
The much-anticipated album from a brilliant young American cellist marks one of the most exciting Decca Classics debuts in many years. The conductor Daniel Barenboim has been a fervent supporter of Alisa Weilerstein’s extraordinary talent since he accompanied her in Elgar’s Concerto as part of the 2010 Europa Concert in Oxford, broadcast on TV across Europe. Together, they have made a recording of searing intensity.