The violin was Edward Elgar’s own instrument and his Violin Concerto is almost like a personal confession: it was ‘too emotional’, Elgar admitted, adding that he loved it nonetheless. The solo part is one of the most exhausting in the repertoire – a veritable compendium of bravura violin techniques. In an interview, Fritz Kreisler, to whom the Violin Concerto is dedicated, ranked Elgar with Beethoven and Brahms. Elgar met the challenge: his Violin Concerto combines the singing quality of Beethoven’s with the symphonic drama of Brahms’s.
The London-born Gerald Finzi was in many ways more English than Elgar and his teacher Ralph Vaughan Williams. As can be heard in his Violin Concerto, a well kept secret from 1927, that had its first performance after the premiere only in 1999. The work lasts twenty minutes: a six-minute Allegro, a superb central ten-minute Molto sereno, and ending with a four-minute Hornpipe Rondo. It is difficult to understand why Finzi was dissatisfied with his two fast movements. The first combines beauty with energy. Through its sheer romantic beauty, the Molto sereno is one of those pieces where the hairs stand up on the back of the neck.
‘Ning Feng delivers all these demanding works with the fire, ice, and sugar, in different measures, that they require. His technique is beyond cavil, of course, but he also plays with a purity and sweetness of tone rare among the current crop of virtuosi.’ – Audiophile Audition