The Strad Issue: January 2010
Musicians: Thomas Zehetmair (violin) Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano) Hallé/Mark Elder
Composer: Elgar

‘It’s good! Awfully emotional! Too emotional… but I love it,’ enthused Elgar about his?Violin Concerto. Delius,?not one of Elgar’s greatest admirers at the best of times, dryly commented: ‘I?found it a bit long and dull,’ and for a great many years, despite the teenage Menuhin’s profound advocacy, this was not an uncommon view. Remarkably, it was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Zukerman, Perlman and Kennedy made their various recordings, that the concerto acquired a truly international status.

With his probing musical intelligence and lithe, silvery sound, Thomas Zehetmair produces a version like no other. Avoiding any hint of cloying, Victorian sentimentality, he uses expressive portamentos to intensify Elgar’s ripely opulent melodies without sounding (as was Menuhin’s wont) as though he is virtually breathing his last with every phrase. If the majority of players tend (often suffocatingly) to place the concerto squarely in the Brahmsian tradition, Zehetmair points up the music’s Mendelssohnian whimsy and open-air freshness. This works wonders in the finale’s protracted cadenza, its fine?honed,?sinewy, darting emotional reflexes a million miles away from the almost apocalyptic trajectory so often forced upon it. The Hallé and Mark Elder provide highly sympathetic and sensitive support, the engineering clarifies Elgar’s imposing textures magnificently, and the fillers are an absolute delight.