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
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
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.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London