Monday 27 May 2019

Celebrating the centenary of Elgar's Cello Concerto

Sir Edward Elgar recording his Cello Concerto with soloist Beatrice Harrison in 1920
Sir Edward Elgar recording his Cello Concerto
with soloist Beatrice Harrison in 1920
In 1918 Elgar was ill and depressed; he was recovering from having his tonsils out, a dangerous operation at the time for a 60 year old man, and he was depressed about the carnage of the war. His wife found them a cottage in Sussex for him to recover and there, remarkably, he recovered his strength and wrote a group of late works which were noticeably different in style to earlier pieces, the String Quartet, the Violin Sonata, the Piano Quintet and the Cello Concerto.

Elgar only began work on the concerto in earnest after the successful premieres of the three chamber works. But interestingly the concerto is linked to the quartet via the cellist Carl Fuchs. It was Fuchs who, in 1900, had requested a quartet for the Brodsky Quartet in which he played, Elgar had agreed but it was not until 1918 that he began work on the quartet and when it was premiered the Brodsky Quartet had retired and the work was played by a quartet led by Albert Sammons (who made the first complete recording of Elgar's Violin Concerto) and WH Reed (who had aided Elgar in the violin writing for the Violin Concerto).

It was Fuchs who had also asked Elgar for a cello concerto, again in 1900 and repeating the request in 1906. The work was premiered in October 1919 with Felix Salmond as soloist, though the first performance was disastrous because of lack of rehearsal time and Elgar's work was going out of fashion, so the concerto was not performed as frequently at first as the Violin Concerto had been when it was premiered. But Elgar would make two valuable recordings of the work, with cellist Beatrice Harrison.

In its centenary year we can probably expect a number of performance of Elgar's Cello Concerto. The 2019 Elgar Festival is celebrating with a performance of the concerto in Elgar's home town of Worcester. Raphael Wallfisch is the soloist with the English Symphony Orchestra conductor Kenneth Woods, at a concert in Worcester Cathedral on 1 June 2019. The concert is the centrepiece of a festival which runs from 30 May to 2 June 2019, with performances of Elgar's Sea Pictures  (in Donald Fraser's choral arrangement), Violin Sonata and Sea Pictures again in the original version for voice and piano, there will also be music by other composers including RVW's Symphony No. 5.

Full information from the Elgar Festival website.

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