Moeran: Cello Concerto

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Moeran
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Moeran: Cello Concerto
WORKS: Cello Concerto; Serenade in G; Whythorne’s Shadow; Lonely Waters
PERFORMER: Guy Johnston (cello); Rebekah Coffey (soprano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8573034

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Moeran wrote his Cello Concerto for his wife, the Irish cellist Peers Coetmore, in 1945, the year of their marriage; she herself recorded it in the late 1960s for Lyrita. It’s a defiant and nostalgic, sometimes deeply elegiac piece, distinctly redolent of Sibelius and Irish folksong. In Guy Johnston it has a soloist entirely sensitive to its swift and sometimes paradoxical changes of mood: this is an effective performance of a little-heard and underrated work.

The Cello Concerto was among Moeran’s last significant compositions; its principal successor was the Serenade in G premiered in 1948, which makes Warlock-like reference to the idioms of Elizabethan music. This recording is of the original, eight-movement version; Moeran later cut out two movements, the ‘Intermezzo’ and ‘Forlana’ – and the result was probably a trimmer and more satisfactory work. But those movements, while not top-drawer Moeran, are still characteristic and interesting to hear, and lend the work a touch of gravitas the shorter version lacks.

The two small-orchestra pieces, Lonely Waters (culminating in a short snatch of folksong from soprano Rebekah Coffey) and Whythorne’s Shadow, another essay in transfigured Elizabethan style, have long been recognised as two of Moeran’s most evocative inspirations and provide a satisfying conclusion to the programme.

The Ulster Orchestra is in fine form, and JoAnn Falletta seems to have the measure of Moeran’s elusive and eclectic idiom.

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Calum MacDonald