Thursday 11 October 2012

E.J. Moeran and his cello concerto

E.J.Moeran and Peers Cotemore
on the cover of her recording of the
Cello concerto written for her
E.J. Moeran (1894 - 1950) was perhaps one of the last English composers to be significantly involved with and inspired by folk-song. He trained with Stanford at the Royal College of Music, returning there after the First World War to study with John Ireland. But the big musical influence on his life was his friendship with Peter Warlock, with whom he lived for some years. A late love affair and marriage with the cellist Peers Coetmore brought forth his Cello Concerto and his Cello Sonata. The concerto, still a relatively neglected work, has been taken up by cellist Guy Johnston. He has recorded it with the Ulster Orchestra and JoAnn Fallatta for release in 2013 and will be playing the work on 4 November at the Cadogan Hall, with the English Schools Orchestra for their Jubilee Concert.

Early in his career Moeran started collecting and arranging folk-songs. His mature style was seen as English pastoralism and somewhat dated, though his major works seem powerful utterances now. He learned much of his craft from Peter Warlock and Bernard van Dieren (another composer in Warlock's circle). But Moeran's friendship with Warlock left him with a dependence on alcohol which may have contributed to Moeran's rather low musical output. After Warlock's death Moeran spent a lot of time in Ireland exploring his Irish roots. His later music reflects this, but also the late works bring in a neo-classicism as well.

In 1945 Moeran fell in love with and married the cellist Peers Coetmore. The marriage was not entirely happy, Moeran felt the need to go off alone particularly to Ireland, and Coetmore had performing committments. But there clearly were good times and Moeran wrote a concerto (1945) and a sonata (1948) for Coetmore, both of which she premiered. After Moeran's death Coetmore re-married and moved to Australia. She recorded both sonata and concerto in the 1960's (the recordings are available on the Lyrita label), though she was over 60 when the recordings were made. They form important documents, though more satisfactory recordings do exist; the work was recorded in the 1980's by Raphael Wallfisch with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Norman Del Mar.

The cello concerto is a work of great lyrical beauty, written at a time when Moeran's music was developing its neoclassical strain, the concerto has a grandeur and a glorious sweep of Irishness to it that is very appealing.

Guy Johnston is performing the concerto at Cadogan Hall on  4 November at 3.00pm with the English Schools Orchestra, conductor Robert Pepper. it is the orchestra's Jubilee Concert and they will also be performing RVW's London Symphony and Walton's Orb and Sceptre. Further details from the Cadogan Hall website.

You can hear Rafael Wallfisch playing the concerto on Youtube.

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