Can the French play Elgar?

Can the French play Elgar?


norman lebrecht

February 05, 2021

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

The first soloist I ever heard play Elgar was the French cellist Paul Tortelier at the Royal Festival Hall — elegant, expressive and chastely romantic, half an hour of unblemished beauty. I was a kid and that must have been 60 years ago. Since then, I’ve heard maybe one other French cellist attempt an Elgar concerto, but never, until now, a violinist….

Read on here.

And here.

In The Critic here.

En francais ici.

In Spanish here.

In Czech here.

More languages follow.


  • Petros LInardos says:

    Steven Hough’s name gets the smaller fonts on the cover. The reasons are easy to guess. Too bad.

  • JussiB says:

    Cellist Gautier Capuçon is good. Last time in LA Disney Hall he dedicated his encore to Hilary Clinton.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    I once saw a French fiddler play it : Isabelle Flory

  • Jonathon says:

    Only one other French cellist apart from Tortelier? And never a violinist? How about Philippe Graffin’s recording of the original score with Vernon Handley and the Liverpool Philharmonic from 2006? And when it comes to cellists there is the marvellous Andre Navarra recording with Barbirolli and the Halle from 1966, or Pierre Fournier on DG, and Renaud Capuçon’s brother Gautier has certainly performed it many times.

  • Elizabeth Lloyd-Davies says:

    Paul Tortelier played the Elgar with complete simplicity and empathy
    for the music, he loved through the first world war and expressed the tragedy so perfectly..I heard him play it in the Waterloo Chamber of
    Windsor Castle with Adrian Boult and the ECO….it was perfect
    Elizabeth Lloyd-Davies

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Fritz Kreisler who played the premiere modestly maintained that the violinist to hear in the Elgar Concerto was … Eugène Ysaÿe.

  • Steven Holloway says:

    I’m not aware that there ever was such an entente. There certainly wasn’t and isn’t one where Elgar is concerned. A read of his entry in the French Wikipedia shows that clearly enough.

  • Rob Keeley says:

    Love Tortelier’s playing – his Fauré is wonderful, but yes, his Elgar is superb too.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Since the brexit, the continent has become quite isolated and it is therefore to be expected that French players will lack the courage to break out of their containment.

  • Gary Freer says:

    I remember some televised Paul Tortelier masterclasses in the mid 1970s – taking English students through the Elgar.

  • M McAlpine says:

    I certainly have a recording of Pierre Fournier playing the Elgar Cello Concerto. I believe he was French?

  • Alexander T says:

    I was lucky enough to meet Paul Tortelier and chat with him for several minutes after a fabulous recital he gave at the Royal Festival Hall in the late seventies. I have never forgotten his humour, his wit and how he prioritised talking to the teenager that I was at the time.
    I still have the autographed program all these years later.
    They do say never meet your heroes: “they” were very wrong.
    A great man.

  • Micaelo Cassetti says:

    I don’t see Elgar as being exclusively English; something about his Violin Concerto and 2nd symphony do Angst like Mahler. Yes, Tortelier WAS brilliant!

  • Friends of the French cello says:

    My best friend studied with Tortelier.
    He was a legend, with an approach that was masterly.
    Tortelier was sort of like the “Piatigorsky of France”.

    In fact I can think of so many top French cellists, that make the “school” of French cello probably the most outstanding in the world currently.

  • Aubrey Hepburn says:

    As a student, I was lucky enough to page-turn at Paul and Maud Tortelier’s only live recital for the BBC at Pebble Mill in 1998 or 1999. The atmosphere was electric and they both played magnificently, as did their pianist Geoffrey Pratley.

    • Paul Carlile says:

      Ah….Maud Martin Tortelier; thank you for mentioning her, she was also a wonderful player and even humorously outdid her husband in the “duel” version of Paganinni Moses Variations when they were “guests” once, in Die Fledermaus.
      A remarkable musical family.
      Coincidentally, i’ve also turned pages for Geoffrey Pratley, (but only for a practice session!).

  • Edgar Self says:

    Other French-school solo cellists besides those already named: Maurice Gendron and Marcel Hubert, who may have known and played Elgar’s concerto.

  • violin accordion says:

    Music transcends artificial borders. Don’t waste time on this vacuous game.
    Never mind Johnny come lately Capuçon.

    What about Augustin Dumay

  • fflambeau says:

    It’s a huge mistake to think that only an Englishperson could play Elgar, a Russian Tchaikovsky, an American, Gershwin. These musicians are professionals, not nationalists.

  • Don Ciccio says:

    Here’s a little known story RE: Elgar in France, which is told by Noel Malcolm in his book about Enescu. When Menuhin studied Elgar’s violin concerto, he had a few sessions with Enescu who instantly loved the work. They decided to have it played in France.

    So they arranged a concert with the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris which was thoroughly rehearsed by Enescu, who also lead the first half. He however invited Elgar to conduct his own work with Menuhin soloist. Mr. Malcolm says that the concert was successful, though sadly did not have a too lasting impact. Succès d’estime, I suppose?

    In any case, it seems that Elgar appreciated Enescu as a conductor, though I am not aware of Enescu conducting anything by Elgar. But this database of the Cleveland Orchestra shows Enescu conducting Vaughan Williams’ 3rd Symphony in 1929:

    • Malcolm Jay Kottler says:

      The performance in Paris of the violin concerto with Elgar conducting and Menuhin the soloist was May 31, 1933. Here is what Humphrey Burton wrote about it, in his biography of Yehudi Menuhin: “Despite the ovations on the 31 May gala evening, the concert was only a ‘succès d’estime’ for Elgar. ‘One felt’, wrote Gaisberg prophetically, ‘that it had not made the impression that was its due. I fear Elgar’s music will never receive real appreciation from Frenchmen, at least in our generation’ ” (Burton, Yehudi Menuhin, pp. 140-141).
      The quotation from Gaisberg is in Fred Gaisberg’s autobiography, Music on Record (published in 1946). The full passage is: “The concert the next day was a brilliant repetition of the London performance, and the presence of the French President and many Ministers of State helped to make it an international event. The Concerto was received with enthusiasm, but one felt that it had not made the impression that was its due. I fear Elgar’s music will never receive real appreciation from Frenchmen, at least in our generation” (p. 241).
      The London performance to which Gaisberg refers was November 20, 1932, at the Royal Albert Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra. It is worth mentioning that in the first half of that concert Menuhin played concertos by Bach and Mozart with Beecham conducting, and then concluded with the Elgar concerto, with Elgar conducting. Menuhin was 16 at the time.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I’m sure it were Elgar’s bass lines that the French did not like – they must have reminded them of Brahms and Wagner, not the most welcome associations in the thirties.