This new release from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales presents Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations and George Chadwick’s Symphonic Sketches. George Chadwick and Edward Elgar lived almost parallel lives on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Born in rural Massachusetts in 1854, Chadwick was Elgar’s senior by three years. Elgar, born in Worcester in 1857, was to become everything Chadwick aspired to be yet wasn’t. Successful and respected as an academic, Chadwick was appointed director of Boston’s New England Conservatory in 1897. Whilst he helped establish the NEC as a major international conservatory, it was recognition as a great composer that he sought most. Elgar, on the other hand, maintained a lifelong suspicion of academics and yet rose to become one of the most venerated composers of his era.
Perlman's Elgar has always caused consternation among English critics, largely because it's so much better played from a purely technical point of view than any performance by an English violinist. With its relatively swift tempos, the performance is sometimes judged to be lacking in repose and "inwardness," whatever that is. All of this is complete nonsense. Perlman's playing of this extremely long and difficult concerto places it squarely in the grand Romantic tradition, which is precisely where it belongs.
At once a virtuosic tour de force and an outpouring of romantic feelings, Elgar's Violin Concerto is one of the titan concertos of the repertoire. At about 50 minutes in total length, it was conceived of on a scale even greater than Dvorák or Brahms before him, but retains the same symphonic characteristics and importance of the orchestral accompaniment.
The late chamber music of fin de siècle English composer Edward Elgar is as melodic and personal as any he ever wrote, but because it is also more emotionally elusive than his earlier symphonies and concertos, his chamber music is much less frequently performed and recorded. This disc by members of London's Nash Ensemble coupling the three-movement, 25-minute-long Violin Sonata in E minor with the three-movement, nearly 40-minute-long Piano Quintet in A minor is a wonderful introduction to both works.