Exciting new CDs of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and English String Music reviewed by Norman Stinchcombe

Delius, Elgar, Howells, Vaughan Williams: Sinfonia of London / Wilson (Chandos CD & SACD) ★★★★★

Following up his 2021 success with ‘English Music for Strings’ conductor John Wilson repeats the formula with equally impressive results. Once again two well-known works bookend two rarely-programmed pieces. This disc opens with Vaughan Williams’ ‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’, for Double String Orchestra, and ends with Elgar’s ‘Introduction and Allegro’. In between is Delius’s ‘Late Swallows’, a slow movement from a string quartet orchestrated by the composer’s amanuensis Eric Fenby, and Herbert Howells’ ‘Concerto for String Orchestra’, a substantial work which at 28 minutes is easily the longest. Superlatives are now obligatory for Wilson and the Sinfonia’s recordings. The acoustic of St. Augustine’s Church, Kilburn, is ideal for ‘Tallis’ with the required separation of the quartet from the main orchestra – rapturously beautiful playing with an almost tangible aural image from the Chandos production team. Howell’s work is vastly under-rated and under-recorded, and while Wilson doesn’t supersede the authoritative one by Sir Adrian Boult (the work’s dedicatee) one welcomes it for the elegance and agility of the Sinfonia’s playing. Delius’s miniature is a dreamy, languorous sojourn, and we end with a rousing, passionate performance of Elgar: no dewy-eyed nostalgia here but impressively athletic, occasionally biting, string playing.

Beethoven: Eberle / London Symphony Orchestra / Rattle (LSO Live CD & SACD) ★★★★★

After hearing such a finely detailed and beautifully articulated live performance of Beethoven’s violin concerto by Veronika Eberle it seems odd to focus on the cadenzas she chose to play. Yet they were the talking point after the concert and will be I suspect for listeners to this disc. Eberle wanted something contemporary and they were supplied by Jörg Widmann the multi-talented clarinettist, composer and conductor. He’s a CBSO regular and in May will be conducting Beethoven’s seventh symphony with them plus his work ‘Con Brio’, an anarchic tribute to the composer. A mixture of homage, reverence and pawky humour abound here, including a colloquy with the LSO leader, raucous martial music and a contribution from the double bass. Eberle has long experience of this concerto – as a 16-year-old in 2006 she played it at the Salzburg Easter Festival at Rattle’s invitation – and her sumptuous tone is allied with rhythmic crispness and no self-indulgent lingering. Rattle and LSO provides luxury support with every section’s contribution a pleasure to hear. The ‘Fragment’ from an unwritten C major violin concerto is a filler. The disc is very short measure but is offered at medium price – and the main work makes it worth it.

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