INKPOT#66 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: ELGAR The Cello Concerto – An Inktroduction
Sir EDWARD ELGAR (1857-1934)
The Cello ConcertoAn Inktroduction by Derek Lim
For many cellists, despite the many other works composed for cello and orchestra, there exist only two cello concertos – the Elgar and the Dvorak.
Why of all works, particularly, the Elgar cello concerto? Probably because it is melodic and evocative in a way that goes straight to the heart, that it is virtuosic and showy in turn, but also probably because it encompasses one of the broadest spectrums of emotions of any concerto – grief, joy, whim, passion – making its interpretation a tour de force for any cellist.
Elgar wrote the concerto throughout the late spring and summer of 1919, and it has an autumnal character in most of its conception. The Concerto is an example, perhaps, of the enormous reaction when a man is challenged by forces that he is hopeless to change. Elgar, it is often said, may have intended the work as an elegy to the people who had died in the Great War of 1914 to 1918. The England which he knew before it was no more. Unknowingly and prophetically he anticipated the death of Lady Elgar the following year in April and the Concerto became an elegy for his wife. The death of his wife dealt him such a deep emotional blow that he was unable to compose anything of similar creativity thereafter, thus making the Cello Concerto his last major work.
Elgar’s Violin Concerto was inspired by the violinist Fritz Kreisler. What inspired the writing of the Cello Concerto is less certain. What is definite is that the muse which prompted him to write this Concerto must have been a wonderful one. The work is novel in many ways, breaking traditions in concerto-writing. For example, considering the date of composition (1919), the four-movement structure was certainly a very different approach. Brahms had tried it before in his Second ppiano Concerto, and to great success. It remained to be seen how this could have been applied to a cello concerto, however.
THE FIRST movement is marked Adagio-Moderato, and is one of much anger and energy. It opens dramatically and angrily, ff with a flourish on a chord, which provides the material for the introduction. The orchestra supports the cello in its opening chords and it then leads to the lyrical and poignant main theme of the movement played by the orchestra alone.The second theme of the movement is evocative of old England, and memories of people. There are painful moments but the music remains lyrical. The solo cello consistently takes a somewhat commentatory role, at times detached, as if telling a story. The tension rises and ebbs continually. As the second theme is developed further, it gets more and more agitated, until the point where it plays a continuous ascending minor scale in despair. The whole orchestra then plunges into a tumult of grief and sorrow.
Stark orchestration such as the use of timpani with the solo cello add to the extreme loneliness of the movement. Throughout this movement the orchestral writing is transparent though not always light.
The second movement begins with pizzicato chords played forte by the solo cello, followed by an exclamation from the orchestra. The cello then tentatively introduces a theme that becomes a skittish-sounding, frivolous scherzo. It plays without much of a break in-between, always saltando (a continuous staccato). There are parts where the cello has to play in very high positions, with harmonics. Occasionally it breaks into a sweeter, lyrical theme, which the orchestra remarks on, but it quickly then reverts to the original frivolity. The movement ends in a rather light-hearted mood with vigorous cello pizzicati.
The third movement is very short and concise – not really a true slow movement, but rather somewhat like an interlude of sorts – an Adagietto. Nevertheless, it is full of heartfelt emotion, though distant in an English manner. It seems to me like one long sigh, full of regret, ending in resignation.
The fourth and final movement begins with a short introduction from the orchestra, followed by an angry and lyrical interjection from the solo cello. This gives way to a short impassioned cadenza, after which the movement truly starts, with a sturdy determined theme which gives way to an episode of tragic humour and fun. Again, frivolity (in the form of those ricochet notes) is never far away from tragedy and optimism, and the mood of the movement changes abruptly, and often.
The movement is the most complex of the four and in using themes from previous material, makes the work a ‘cyclic’ one. For example, the theme from the third movement is brought up again, expressing regret and longing, and leading to resignation.
The movement concludes with the abrupt recall of the angry chords from the first movement, and the music rages towards… despair? Optimism? For there is more than a hint of determination in the propulsion of the music. Whatever it is the listener is kept wondering. The music speaks so directly to the heart that one must wonder.Elgar’s Cello Concerto: Recordings Reviews
Kennedy plays the Violin Concerto | The Edward Elgar Foundation & Society Homepage
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