Elgar: Have we been hearing what he really wrote?

It is Elgar as we have never heard him before: a newly revealed version of the composer's epic Violin Concerto. The French violinist Philippe Graffin has made it his mission to resuscitate Elgar's original vision of the work, according to manuscripts that have been lying for decades in the bowels of the British Library. Graffin's breathtakingly romantic account, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Vernon Handley, brings the work closer to the composer's initial intentions than any recording to date, by sifting out numerous alterations made to it by its dedicatee, the composer and violin superstar Fritz Kreisler.

Since the work is indisputably one of the greatest violin concertos in the repertoire - certainly the greatest by a British composer - it does seem extraordinary that nobody has made the content of those manuscripts widely known before. Rumours about them have been rife among cognoscenti, and lectures have occasionally been given on the subject, but Graffin is the first violinist to record the results. For him, it's the culmination of some intense detective work.

It all began years ago, in Paris, where the teenaged Graffin fell in love with the concerto, only to find that his teachers at the Paris Conservatoire did not consider it suitable material for a young French virtuoso. Graduating from the institution at just 17, Graffin "jumped on the first plane to Canada", to study with the Hungarian violinist and professor Lorand Fenyves, who let him plunge into the piece. "It was from Mr Fenyves that I first heard that Kreisler's input had been considerable," Graffin recalls. "In certain passages, he kept saying, 'This is so Kreisler!'"

Much later, learning that the British Library had the original manuscripts, Graffin's curiosity was aroused. It was the composer David Matthews who gave him the impetus to see the work in Elgar's own hand. Matthews was a guest at Graffin's Consonances music festival at St Nazaire. "He told me that the manuscripts contained many differences from the published version," Graffin says. Elgar had been a violinist himself, but nowhere near the calibre of Kreisler. "David mentioned that Elgar's violin-playing background was very different from Kreisler's, and that this could be seen in the manuscript," Graffin explains. "So I went rushing back to London to have a look for myself."

The mystery deepened with the revelation that Elgar's main instrumental adviser for the work had not been Kreisler at all, but the leader of the London Symphony Orchestra, William Reed, a close friend. "There's a well-known anecdote about the way Reed used to go round to Elgar's apartment on New Cavendish Street and play parts of the concerto from pieces of paper scattered all over the room," Graffin says. Kreisler was away on tour a great deal, and although Elgar composed the concerto with him in mind, the last-minute changes he made were incorporated into the published work and have been played as standard ever since.

In the British Library, Graffin researched in minute detail the two manuscripts and a series of drafts, comparing them note-for-note with the printed version. "With most pieces of music, there's almost no difference between the final manuscript and the published score," Graffin says. "But this was absolutely extraordinary: I counted more than 40 places where the published version is different."

Why did Kreisler change so much? "I think Elgar was worried about the playability of certain passages, often with good reason, and Kreisler, a more experienced soloist than Reed, found some excellent solutions." Other changes, though, may have been slotted in only for effect. "There are some little details that are pure Kreisler. For example, instead of a 'sforzando' for emphasis, Kreisler would put in a decorative trill or turn - his own short pieces are full of them."

So how does this change the way we hear the Elgar Violin Concerto? "It's a little like reading a private diary," says Graffin. "You may know the person well, but now you start to understand the reasons for their actions. It's a process of evolution. The music isn't only to be served; it is to be experienced. I think the plasticity of the final results doesn't matter - it's the emotions generating them that count.

"I took the notes for granted until I saw the manuscript. Then I realised that the concerto's composition was an ongoing process that probably Elgar had just had to stop in time for its publication. Otherwise he could have spent his whole life trying to figure it out! Perhaps it gives a licence to the performer, now that the source is readily available, to look at the manuscripts and make their own choice. This version makes the concerto more completely Elgar's. In the end, it belongs to him, not Kreisler."

If the Violin Concerto's premiere in 1910 did not match Elgar's original intentions, neither did that of the Cello Concerto in 1920, but for a different reason. While Elgar waited with the young soloist, Felix Salmond, to rehearse with the orchestra, the conductor Albert Coates, who was wielding the baton for Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy in the same programme, grabbed more than his fair share of rehearsal time. Too little was left for the concerto, and the performance was a disaster. It took years for the work to recover.

The cellist Raphael Wallfisch feels a personal responsibility to redress the balance on Elgar's behalf: his wife happens to be Albert Coates's granddaughter. "The concerto has suffered from that premiere's unsatisfactory legacy," Wallfisch says. His recording, again with the RLPO, follows a new edition of the score by Jonathan Del Mar. "Unlike the Violin Concerto," Wallfisch says, "only one actual note is different - but it's a prominent note that changes the emotional colour of the unaccompanied passage leading into the second movement. I always find, when I play it, that people around me start to look pale and anxious!"

Tying up the new recordings in a neat bow, Graffin and Wallfisch have recently founded a piano trio with the pianist Jeremy Menuhin, son of Yehudi, who recorded the Elgar Violin Concerto with Elgar himself conducting. Are these musicians united by their quest for authentic Elgar? "It's pure coincidence," says Wallfisch, smiling.

Philippe Graffin's Elgar Violin Concerto (Avie Records) and Raphael Wallfisch's Elgar Cello Concerto (Nimbus) are both released in April

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most