The Strad Issue: January 2010
Musicians: Nikolaj Znaider (violin) Staatskapelle Dresden/Colin Davis
Composer: Elgar

There is a certain pedigree to this recording of Elgar’s Violin Concerto. Nikolaj Znaider plays the Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ instrument of 1741 on which Kreisler, the work’s dedicatee, gave the first performance, while that grand old Elgarian Colin Davis gave his own first performance of it with Yehudi Menuhin, who famously recorded it with the composer. The Znaider/Guarneri sound is glorious, rich and deep as a vintage port, and brilliant with it, and it is easy, if dangerous, to hear the shade of Kreisler in Znaider’s warm and eloquent vibrato. It’s wonderful playing, matching passion with intelligence, and balancing virtuosity with sure melodic feeling. He is masterly in the great third-movement cadenza, caressing the reminiscences of past themes, moving elegiacally between them.

But the heart of this performance lies in the second movement, a profound, meditative essay in which Znaider and Davis create a tender and magical world. The great span never sags, but within it the many beauties are explored and savoured. It is a private, intimate performance, full of exquisite detail and reverie. The playing of the Staatskapelle Dresden is also a joy, tremendous, sensitive and pliant under the authoritative direction of Davis. The recorded sound is warm and finely balanced.