* Listen to Tom talking about Elgar


Tom playing Elgar's Salut d'amour

My first memory of the Elgar violin concerto is sitting in the front room aged ten and listening to my father's gramophone. Out came that extraordinary recording of the sixteen-year-old Menuhin and Elgar himself conducting the LSO. I can remember the cover of the LP transfer with that famous picture of Yehudi and Sir Edward standing on the steps of the EMI Abbey road studios. It would take many years for me to fully understand the poignancy of that meeting; the ageing composer collaborating with a youth in a work so rich in the evocation of times past and lost love.

I was later given as a birthday present the Albert Sammons recording with Sir Henry Wood - one that I cherished as my own - and a pocket sized score. The score was also a present and to this day has my name on the front along with the date of its presentation - 1972 - in my father's hand. As a twelve year old I noticed several things; it was in a larger format than the Mendelssohn given me at the same time - the instruments stretching well down that first page and including several not in the other concerto; also, despite smaller type it had many more pages. Straight away it spoke of grandeur and a certain flamboyant style; it bristled with flourishes and words like strepitoso, nobilmente and allargando. It seemed to a youngster like a big adventure book in music, but one whose pain a twelve year old was yet only dimly becoming aware.

Now that I know the work thoroughly and life has touched me more deeply, it has become a different kind of treasure. There is no piece whose journey so moves me, whether playing or listening and there are certain moments that will always, it seems, bring tears.

It would be some 25 years before I seriously started to study the concerto, well aware by then of the challenges it sets to stamina and concentration - I have attended more than one performance where the memory of the soloist has given way. This concerto though, is written beautifully for the instrument - more violinistic than say the Brahms Concerto, perhaps its nearest relation. But being required to play at an emotionally high pitch for the first two movements, which occupy half an hour, can easily take a toll on the final movement. Then again, having negotiated all the unsettling intensity of that last movement for a further fifteen minutes, another gathering of resources is required to bring off that unique and amazing cadenza. Many a violinist must have realized as they sweat on into the finale, that, had they been playing almost any other concerto they might now be ordering drinks and receiving congratulations from friends!