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Elgar’s Violin Concerto has a certain mystique about it independent of the knee-jerk obeisance it has received in the British press. It probably is the longest and most difficult of all Romantic violin concertos, requiring not just great technical facility but great concentration from the soloist and a real partnership of equals with the orchestra. And like all of Elgar’s large orchestral works, it is extremely episodic in construction and liable to fall apart if not handled with a compelling sense of the long line. In reviewing the score while listening to this excellent performance, I was struck by just how fussy Elgar’s indications often are: the constant accelerandos and ritards, and the minute (and impractical) dynamic indications that ask more questions than they sometimes answer. No version, least of all the composer’s own, even attempts to realize them all: it would be impossible without italicizing and sectionalizing the work to death.
Perhaps part of what sets this recording apart from its competitors is Barbirolli's overall conception of the work: the liner notes point out that he always called the work Elgar's "*Dream,*" and not "Gerontius." This seemingly simple change results in a completely different outlook on the work. In emphasizing the dream-like quality of the work, Barbirolli is at once more daring and more orthodox than his competitors, allowing the quirkiness of Elgar's orchestration and choral writing to burst out time and time again, here cellos coming to the fore, there a clarinet emerging in sudden duet with one of the soloists. Barbirolli is doing nothing more than giving us what's on the page, but what a difference this makes!