Kennedy, City of Birmingham SO/ Sir Simon Rattle
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Kennedy (he's dropped the Nigel) has come a long way with the Elgar Concerto. But even now, in the aftermath of this extraordinary performance, he leaves you in the sure and certain knowledge that it is better to journey than to arrive. So Sir Simon Rattle takes the high road with an introduction whose breadth belies urgency. The big preparatory rubatos are not shy, but neither are they obtrusive. The manner is grand, but equally it is restless, unstable. And Kennedy's first entry gives notice of a troubled nature previously only hinted at. One phrase, and it's clear that the rebel without a cause now has one. The second subject no longer needs to be slow to be meaningful. Kennedy's daring withdrawal into the palest, barely-voiced mezza voce conveys an inwardness that few have shared, let alone understood.
In other respects it's an outspoken performance. The public pomp, the private circumstance, the volatility that seems to pull at the very seams of the piece - all are confronted head on. Elgar's assumed personality (the fine upstanding one) gets very short shrift from Kennedy. He is impulsive to the point of reckless endangerment. This is Elgar unmasked, hurtling from one emotional crisis to the next. But in the moments of repose, reflection, contemplation, you truly feel like you're sharing in confidences.
Kennedy takes the accompanied cadenza somewhere very secretive and, in the dying moments of the slow movement, the tone is so personal as to make one almost uncomfortable. Listen to the last note. One note, but it's eternal, and while there's still sound in it, it's like nothing is being left unsaid. Now, that is great playing.
Edward SeckersonReuse content