Elgar: Violin Concerto & Violin Sonata

Renaud Capuçon, Stephen Hough, London Symphony Orchestra, & Sir Simon Rattle

Elgar: Violin Concerto & Violin Sonata

Elgar’s Violin Concerto is one of English music’s most supreme masterpieces. Passionate, wistful, and lyrical, it features an overarching Edwardian confidence and grandeur typical of the composer. Yet it’s rarely performed and recorded, something that puzzles Renaud Capuçon. “I’ve always loved the Elgar Concerto,” Capuçon—who is only the second French violinist to have recorded it—tells Apple Music. “I waited a while to dig deep into it because I felt it was too huge. It’s 50 minutes long, and I think that’s why people don’t play it.” The piece is also one of the most technically demanding violin concertos ever written. But beneath its challenges lies some of Elgar’s most tender music, full of themes of love. “It’s one of the most romantic, songful pieces ever written for the violin,” agrees Capuçon. “And when you play it, you’re surrounded by the incredible sound of the orchestra. It’s like huge, amazing waves, and the violin is kind of surfing on them.” There’s surely no one better to ride those waves with than the London Symphony Orchestra, who have a deep historical connection with the Elgar Concerto (back in 1910, the LSO premiered it alongside the great violinist Fritz Kreisler, later recording it with Yehudi Menuhin—both times conducted by Elgar himself). On this mesmerizing album, you’ll also hear a beautiful, intimate performance of Elgar’s Violin Sonata, for which Capuçon is joined by British pianist Stephen Hough. The work was new to the French violinist, but the piece clearly captivated him. “The music takes you in in a very gentle way, which is probably one of Elgar’s most amazing qualities,” he says. “He gets to you and then, if you let him, he stays.” Read on as Capuçon takes us through Elgar: Violin Concerto & Violin Sonata, movement by movement.
Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op. 61
I. Allegro “For the first few minutes, Elgar gives the orchestra this huge, majestic introduction that contains all the themes and the beauty to come. It’s almost like a taste of what to expect later on. Then the violin finally arrives, playing this wonderful theme. Elgar has a real sense of drama. Where Mendelssohn would let the violin soloist speak after one second in his concerto, Elgar takes his time. It’s very noble and brilliantly orchestrated. But the real challenge of the first movement is following exactly what Elgar wrote—his tempo directions are so important. You can’t do it your own way and it has to be spot on.”
II. Andante “In this movement, Elgar plays with the texture of the violin. When he asks you to play very high on the lowest string, the G-string, it gives the music depth and tension. But it’s also very tender. As the soloist, you feel as if you’re at the center of an epic love story. I also love the constant musical dialogue between the violin and the orchestra. Elgar gives you a phrase, which then passes to the orchestra. There are these long singing lines, too, that never seem to stop. That’s why I don’t understand why it’s not played more—if you love music and singing, this is exactly what this concerto is about. There isn’t a single bar that doesn’t sing.”
III. Allegro molto “Technically, the final movement is very demanding. There are a lot of tricky passages that you have to practice very carefully every time you play it again. It feels like a battle. Unusually, Elgar puts the cadenza in the final movement, which revisits the theme from the first movement. It’s full of sadness and nostalgia, and the effect of the orchestra accompanying underneath gives it an extra sense of mystery. After the cadenza, the final, epic nine minutes are like reaching the end of a huge book or movie. You feel as if you’re leaving something incredible behind.”
Violin Sonata in E Minor, Op. 82
I. Allegro “Elgar begins his Sonata very differently from the Concerto. Here, there’s no introduction—the piano and violin start together straight away. And there’s a real sense of dialogue between piano and violin. It’s quite a strong dialogue, too—it’s almost argumentative! But then, suddenly, you feel like you’re surrounded by cashmere and silk and sun. There are these strong melodies that make you smile, but with a sense of melancholy.”
II. Romance: Andante “The second movement feels like an improvisation—it’s very free, like two people having a nice conversation. Elgar then introduces this incredible phrase, as if those two people are completely in love. I was with my parents recently and they wanted to listen to the recording. I played them the Sonata, which they didn’t know, and when that theme arrived, I could see their faces. My mother was almost crying. She found it so beautiful.”
III. Allegro non troppo “The finale begins with this long phrase, which is very gentle, like somebody telling you a story about something that happened to them 40 years ago. There’s a lot of nostalgia and passion in the way they tell it, as if they were remembering every little detail. Everywhere in the music, Elgar mixes these feelings of nobility and tenderness. I was so happy to play alongside pianist Stephen Hough. We played in St Jude-on-the-Hill, a wonderful church up in Hampstead in North London, near where Elgar once lived. It has a fantastic acoustic, and it felt so intimate recording the Sonata there.”

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Violin Sonata in E Minor, Op. 82
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