Philippe Graffin / Vernon Handley

Elgar: Violin Concerto; Chausson: Poème

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Elgar: Violin Concerto; Chausson: Poème Review

by Mike D. Brownell

Listeners will likely finish this recording of the Elgar violin concerto and feel at least a little conflicted. There are moments of austere beauty and exquisite sound quality that are sadly juxtaposed by periods of poor intonation and curious articulation choices. The first movement opens with an extended orchestral tutti for which the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and conductor Vernon Handley deserve praise. The orchestra provides a powerful, rich, and extremely sensitive backdrop throughout the recording that simply cannot be faulted. Graffin's violin playing, by contrast, is sporadic. When in the lower registers of the instrument, particularly on the G string, he is capable of pulling a deep, guttural, satisfying tone from his instrument. The second movement is filled with suave legato playing. Problems arise in the upper registers, and intonation problems abound when playing double stops and chords. The legato playing from the second movement regrettably carries over to the introduction of the third movement resulting in less rhythmic vitality and edginess than the music demands. The Chausson is a stronger offering as it allows Graffin to showcase that at which he truly seems to be best. The intonation problems that occasionally marred the Elgar are no longer present. Still, the orchestra's performance seems to outshine Graffin.

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