Renaud Capucon performs in concert (Photo by Dan Porges/Getty Images)
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Elgar: Violin concerto/violin sonata (Warner)

Elgar works best when a conductor appears to do least


The first soloist I ever heard play Elgar was the French cellist Paul Tortelier at the Royal Festival Hall – elegant, expressive and chastely romantic, half an hour of unblemished beauty. I was a kid and that must have been 60 years ago. Since then, I’ve heard maybe one other French cellist attempt an Elgar concerto, but never, until now, a violinist.

This is a serene dialogue across a channel often blighted by wilful miscommunication

Renaud Capuçon is a revelation in many ways. He shifts the accent from phlegmatic to something more Gallic and the dynamics to a whispering tendresse. There is so much individuality in this account that I kept wondering why I was not overwhelmed. The cause lies, I think, with the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor Simon Rattle, trying a tad too hard to oversell the work with emotional swoops. Elgar works best when a conductor appears to do least – in the manner of Adrian Boult, John Barbirolli and Vernon Handley. Push the buttons and it fails to move. The orchestral sound, too, lacked pomp, regardless of difficult present circumstances.

Capuçon is better matched in the violin sonata by the pianist Stephen Hough: an ideal conversation partner who never rudely interrupts and takes his time absorbing each statement before offering a reasoned riposte. This is a serene and civilized dialogue across a channel often blighted these days by wilful miscommunication. If only Boris and Macron could chat like this.

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