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



Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.


Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing
    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower