I did at first react scornfully to seeing another Bruch No.1 listed; it’s a splendid piece but simply programmed too often and easily. Then I listened: very impressive from Rachel Barton Pine and Andrew Litton. Whilst Bruch No.2 would have been more welcome – to even things out a bit, and his Third is too long to consider alongside the Elgar (although Jack Liebeck has surveyed all three for Hyperion, marvellously) – this account of the G-minor is accomplished and fresh-faced, its excellence suggested immediately by an expectant timpani-roll introduction and some finely-blended woodwinds. In the distraction-free studio (its unencumbered clarity faithfully captured) Pine gives a technically infallible account of intensity, her bow pressing hard on the strings at times; not the loveliest of sounds maybe – although there is no doubting her emotional commitment or her ability to affectingly shape lyrical lines with silvery timbre and an imploring manner – this is certainly an imposing version, aided with certainty by Litton and the BBCSO being not only attentive but thoroughly involved and distinctive. The slow movement is from the heart and the Finale has energy and ardour without being over-speedy or overblown.
The Elgar is perhaps the greater prize, a flexible and expansive account (fifty-one minutes) if lacking nothing in direction. Litton is a sympathetic Elgarian, impulses and emphases finely judged, so too the use of antiphonal violins, which the composer would have expected and writes accordingly. Pine feels this music deeply and its technical challenges hold no terrors for her, and if this is not the most confiding reading ever it is certainly alive with varied sentiments and an impassioned approach that involves the listener, if – this one anyway – looking for something just less heart-on-sleeve at times, with a little more innigkeit to leaven the pressure. If the slow movement, by its conclusion, has become rather indulgent, then the large-scale Finale is thrilling and moving and found your reviewer at his most responsive to the music-making.
This release is “Dedicated to the memory of a musical hero and generous friend, Sir Neville Marriner”. Yes, he is much missed, and it is he who was originally booked for this recording, Rachel Barton Pine having previously recorded with him (Mozart Concertos) and having already spent time with Sir Neville discussing these scores. I wonder if she was thinking of him during Elgar’s Cadenza accompagnata, which brings her most reflective and capricious playing. In response, Litton and the BBCSO give the uplifting closing bars with tremendous impact.