Elgar signalled his approval of Lionel Tertis’s viola arrangement of the solo part of his cello concerto by conducting its first performance in 1930, with Tertis as the soloist. That the great violist’s reworking was supremely tactful, and involved the minimum of changes to the solo lines – mostly octave transpositions where the original cello part goes below the viola’s range – and none at all to the orchestral score, no doubt helped Elgar to accept its validity.
As Timothy Ridout’s fine performance with Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra shows, the concerto is entirely convincing as a viola work, which makes its rarity in the concert hall and on disc all the more surprising – apparently this is just the third ever commercial recording. It could even be argued that the central pair of movements are more effective in the viola version than in the original – Ridout makes the scherzo fabulously nimble and precise, and the long aching lines of the Adagio even more plangent. It’s only in a handful of passages in the outer movements that the extra weight of tone that the cello inevitably brings is really missed.
Ridout is equally impressive in Ernest Bloch’s Suite, which was composed first for viola and piano and subsequently orchestrated; it was first performed in 1919, the year in which Elgar’s concerto was premiered, too. It’s a curious piece, full of faux orientalisms, and veering between full-blooded romantic sweeps and nervy modernist juxtapositions; the best music comes in the third movement, an enchanted nocturne, which Ridout spins out on a beautiful thread of silvery tone.
This week’s other pick
A few notable releases aside, most of the discs issued to mark César Franck’s bicentenary last year have been reissues, but the selection of orchestral works on Alpha from the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra under Alain Altinoglu makes a belated exception. As well as Franck’s Symphony in D Minor, heard much less often nowadays than it once was, and the best known of the symphonic poems, Le Chasseur Maudit, Altinoglu also includes the orchestral interlude that Franck originally intended to separate the two parts of his choral “poème-symphonie” Rédemption. All the performances are sober, well-paced and never overblown, with textures as transparent as the scoring allows them to be.