The versatile Alfredo Campoli is perhaps equally well-known for his 1930s recordings and broadcasts of light music as for his more serious solo work. As the depression of the 1920s and 1930s reduced demand for classical artists, Campoli made a living with his salon orchestra ‘Alfredo and His Tzigane Band’, performing in traditional Romany costume, and the Welbeck Light Quartet which played in London restaurants.
Campoli, who moved to London with his musician parents aged five, learnt violin with his father and by the age of thirteen had won so many prizes that he was asked not to participate in further competitions. Having made his Wigmore Hall début aged seventeen, in 1919 he did however enter the London Music Festival, winning the gold medal with Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, a work which he performed over 900 times throughout his career.
Following World War II, during which he gave numerous concerts for Allied troops, Campoli returned to serious classics, establishing an international reputation with a repertoire including Moeran, Ireland, Bax and Walton. In 1955 he premièred and recorded Arthur Bliss’s Violin Concerto, written for him, with Bliss conducting. They enjoyed a lively working relationship: Campoli cheekily exaggerating the difficulties in passages that he considered badly written for the violin and offering his own ‘corrections’.
His much-admired bel canto tone was combined with impeccable technique and an eloquent approach to interpretation. His spiccato bowing was legendary, achieved by lifting the little finger right off the bow. These qualities are sometimes poorly reflected in the engineering quality of Campoli’s recordings; his clean, crisp performance of Saint-Saëns’ Introduction et Rondo capriccioso (1953) is rendered a little harsh in sound, although some very tidy bowing techniques are well conveyed, as also heard in the Tartini–Kreisler (1955). This same harshness in Bliss’s Violin Concerto is evident right from the start of the orchestral tutti, suggesting that Campoli’s brittle sound here is due to the recording. This improves as one goes further inside the music (or makes an aural adjustment) so that the qualities of the work and its performance can be grasped. Campoli’s playing sounds modern in many respects, although there is a poetic intensity that favours the more expansive and reflective works selected here, such as the Bliss and Elgar concertos (the latter from 1973).
A genial and well-loved figure, often sporting a large cigar, Campoli made more than a thousand radio broadcasts and was one of the Decca company’s foremost artists for over forty years. His last public appearance (aged seventy-nine) was, rather touchingly, with the Senior Youth Orchestra of Huddersfield, England.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)