I have been coasting through various modern readings of the Elgar Cto., a work that was closely associated with Yehudi Menuhin, born in 1916, after he recorded it as a teenager in 1932 under the composer. I kept wondering if my memories of his eloquence were tinged with nostalgia, because even in the most expert hands I couldn't recapture the magic of this sprawling Edwardian masterpiece, enrobed as it is in imperial grandness and Victorian high seriousness. But no, here is a live reading with Boult dating from 1965, when the violinist was almost fifty, his technical command considerably marred, and every note is inspired. I count Menuhin as one of a handful of soloists who could recreate music as if the composer spoke through them, and as true as that was in his performances of Beethoven and Brahms with Furtwangler just after the war, it's just as present here twenty years later.
Bould adopts a grand, measured pace in the first movement, but what really counts is his bold, heroic approach to the orchestral part -- I've never heard anything close to its equal. The Elgar Cto. is as symphonically ambitious as the Brahms, yet to be frank, a series of dull conductors has stripped away that side of the score; Boult fully restores it. Suddenly there's a line instead of wandering gestures. Vernon Handley and Simon Rattle, highly commended for their accompaniment in Nigel Kennedy's two recordings, fall considerably behind. In the Adagio the orchestra steps back from the solo violin, and here Menuhin plays with what I would call poignant strength. For some peculiar reason he sounds further back than in the first movement, however. The finale begins with skittering passage work that gets a bit thin in the stratosphere as played by Menuhin, even at Boult's easy pacing, but their musicianship never falters -- it's touching to hear how a great performer can compensate for weakness so beautifully. The wandering melancholy of this movement always loses me, to be frank. Menuhin's enthusiasm amounts to the kind of passionate advocacy that it needs, even if his intonation and double stops are sometimes suspect. It's a case of spirit triumphant.
The Introduction and Allegro comes from a Proms concert in 1975, when Boult was 86 and in fragile health. He was too fine a musician to call doughty, yet one knows that he will get on with it, no matter what. The work is a high Romantic take on the Baroque concerto grosso for strings, with the alternation of a small concertino group (sometimes taken by a named string quartet, I believe) and the full string body. Here we get vivid stereo that conveys the lushness of the scoring, although the smaller group is a bit distant. Boult isn't as vigorous as his younger self, or Sir John Barbirolli in his classic EMI recording, yet the reading is assured and touching from beginning to end, with many instances of phrasing that go directly to one's heart.