- Audio CD (March 19, 2002)
- SPARS Code: DDD
- Number of Discs: 1
- Format: Import
- Label: Naxos
- Run Time: 68 minutes
- ASIN: B00005Y0MW
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #220,659 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
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Though sadly unfamiliar to audiences outside his native England, Albert Sammons was one of the greatest violinists of his time, as is amply proved by his playing on this disc. His tone, despite the recording's age, is pure, focused, intense, and unfailingly expressive, soaring radiantly in the high register. His technique is formidable, his intonation impeccable, his facility brilliant but never showy, and he uses his instrumental mastery entirely in the service of the music. The performances recorded here, expressing a deep understanding of and personal feeling for the music, are truly authentic: Delius wrote his concerto for him and accepted his technical advice, and he often performed Elgar's under the composer's baton.
Both works are thoroughly romantic and seem to breathe the pastoral, peaceful, leisurely, expansive air of the English countryside. But they also generate intense passion and bursts of brilliant virtuosity, which Sammons tosses off easily. The runs are crystal clear and always part of the music. In keeping with the style of the time, he slides a good deal, but invariably with taste and discretion; his playing is austere and unsentimental. The Delius is predominantly dreamy, atmospheric, and rhapsodic, but Sammons, aided by Malcolm Sargent, saves it from rambling. The more popular Elgar is a much stronger work. Masterfully constructed and orchestrated, somber, nostalgic, and melancholy, it abounds with beguilingly beautiful, rapturous melodies, which Sammons plays with great warmth and affection. Henry Wood's brisk tempos and famously brusque approach preclude any effusive lingering, but give the fast movements vitality and momentum. --Edith Eisler
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Albert Sammons was perhaps the greatest violinist Britain ever produced; certainly the finest in the 1st half of the 20th century. He was intimately familiar with both of these pieces: he was the dedicatee of the Delius; he also was an ardent advocate of the Elgar; in fact it was only after hearing Sammons play the Elgar in 1915 that Delius decided to try his hand at his own concerto.
Sammons brings an incredible authority to both concerti. His Delius is without peer, even though the 1944 recording caught him towards the end of his performing career. I honestly haven't heard it bettered, although there also are serviceable recordings by Tasmin Little and Ralph Holmes, among others. But Sammons reigns supreme in my opinion.
The Elgar performance also has a unique authority. It was the first complete recording (i.e. without cuts) of the concerto made. By the time of this 1929 recording, Sammons was 43 and had been performing the piece for fully 15 years, often with the composer conducting.
The Elgar evokes deep emotions among listeners and colonists alike; opinions clearly run strong on what makes a great or legendary performance. I wouldn't ask you to give up your other favorites, but I would suggest this performance belongs in your pantheon of elgarian deities. It really is THAT good.
Two years later the 16 year old Yehudi Menuhin made his famous recording with Elgar himself conducting. Much ink and more words have been expended comparing these two justly-famous and authoritative recordings. I won't enter the fray since I really like both; (again) I'd suggest there should be room for both in your pantheon, even if you have other, more recent (and more sonically current) recordings at your disposal.
On that last point, however, I'd be remiss if I didn't highlight one other star of this CD: Mark Obert-Thorn, the technical wizard who had miraculously but judiciously restored these performances to reasonable sound quality standards. Obert-Thorn has done many such services for listeners on behalf of Naxos, Music & Arts and other commercial labels, as well as the restoration and online recording sales business (Pristine Audio) which he runs with several equally gifted colleagues. I actively seek out his restorations because I can be assured he's done all he can to bring the magic out and has struck the right balance between enhancing clarity and preserving existing dynamic range. (Not that I'll ever be asked to weigh in), but I fervently hope that some future Downing Street occupant could give Mark a well-deserved gong for his services to historical music preservation. Theresa? How 'bout it???