Tuesday 22 March 2022

Fidelio Trio explores Moeran's early chamber music, revealing a mix of Romantic harmonies, Continental influences and a sense of engagement with Irish musical culture

Moeran Chamber Music; Fidelio Trio; Resonus Classics

Moeran Chamber Music; Fidelio Trio; Resonus Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 March 2022 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An exploration of Moeran's early chamber work reveals some marvellous music in terrific performances bringing out the Continental influences in his music

Ernest Moeran's musical reputation tends to rest on a handful of works, mainly late ones notably the Symphony (from 1934-1937) and the Cello Concerto (from 1945), and much of his output remains relatively unknown. The new disc of his chamber music from the Fidelio Trio (Darragh Morgan, violin, Tim Gill, cello, Mary Dullea, piano) on Resonus Classics explores chamber works from the 1920s and 1930s, notably the Piano Trio, Sonata for Violin and Piano, and Sonata for Two Violins
(where Darragh Morgan is joined by violinist Nicky Sweeney), with one short late masterpiece the Prelude for Cello and Piano from 1943.

Moeran was never a particularly major figure, he rather ploughed his own furrow and a somewhat fallow period in the late 1920s (thanks to the riotous influence of his friend Peter Warlock) did not help. Moeran's well-made style and folk-song imbued music must have seemed somewhat out of time in the face of the bright modernisms of the 1920s and 1930s. 

But there is another thread to Moeran's musical make-up, one that sits implicitly behind much of the music on this disc, the music of Ireland. Moeran's father was Anglo-Irish and from the 1920s, Moeran started to explore his Irish musical roots. In 1934 he made his second home in Kenmare in the West of Ireland, and it was here that he died in 1950. And it is these West Ireland links that carry right through to the performers on the disc, as Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea (from the Fidelio Trio) founded the Summer festival Chamber Music on Valentia, based on Valentia Island where Moeran finished his Symphony in 1937.

Moeran studied at the Royal College of Music with Stanford (another major Anglo-Irish figure) and later with John Ireland. It is perhaps through Ireland's influence that we can hear the music of contemporary European figures in Moeran's writing. His Piano Trio debuted in 1921 at the Wigmore Hall, though Moeran revised it in 1925, and you can clearly hear the debt to Ravel's Piano Trio from 1914. The work is an expansive one in four movements, a large scale Romantic work full of impressionistic harmonies, imaginative writing for the tricky forces of the piano trio and yearning melodies that speak already of Moeran's engagement with Irish music. You can hear also, perhaps the influence of the RVW who studied with Ravel. The lyrical Allegro flows effortlessly with beautifully intertwining lines, whilst the slow movement really yearns and does suggest RVW. The perky Scherzo leads to the lovely lyrical finale.  There is a sense of confidence here in Moeran's handling of the medium, the way he combines imaginative textures with Romantic harmonies.

Chronologically, the next work is the Sonata for Violin and Piano that debuted in 1923. The opening Allegro is wonderfully rhapsodic; here and elsewhere in the work Darragh Morgan highlights the lyricism with his lovely singing tone. Whilst we can hear Moeran's teacher, Ireland, there are also hints of jazz in some of the chords, particularly in the slow movement. And the work ends with a fast and vivid finale.

The Sonata for Two Violins dates from 1930, a watershed year for Moeran as it was the year Peter Warlock died. Moeran would go through something of a personal reassessment, though his struggles with alcohol remained. For the Sonata for Two Violins Morgan is joined by violinist Nicky Sweeney. There is no piano part and the music hints at elements of neo-classicism, textures are lighter and there are nods to older models. The opening Allegro is fast and light, whilst the middle movement Presto manages to combine imaginative textures with a certain folk influence in the melodic material. The final is a Passcaglia, with again Moeran showing great imagination when it comes to handling his forces.

There is one short, final work, the Prelude for Cello and Piano from 1943, written for the cellist Peers Cotemore for whom Moeran would write the masterly Cello Concerto and Cello Sonata. It is freely lyrical, short and completely haunting with Moeran absorbing the Irish inflections of the melodic material into his style and cellist Tim Gill plays with superb mellow tone.

English composers of the 1920s and 1930s were not always particularly renowned for their chamber music, Bridge, Bowen and Clarke all wrote major chamber works but figures such as RVW, Holst, Walton and so on tended to avoid the medium. Interestingly Moeran's teacher John Ireland also wrote a significant body of chamber music and by the time Moeran came to write his Piano Trio, Ireland had already written two. For some reason this repertoire does not always make it onto concert platforms, which is a great shame. The Fidelio Trio play this music with great skill and imagination, bringing out all those continental influences in Moeran's writing and relishing the lyrical rhapsody of the music. But there is no sense of special pleading, this is terrific music in fine performances and it deserves to be hear more.

Ernest John Moeran (1894-1950) - Sonata for Violin and Piano in E minor (1923)
Ernest John Moeran - Sonata for Two Violins (1930)
Ernest John Moeran - Prelude for Cello and Piano (1943)
Ernest John Moeran - Piano Trio in D major (1920)
Fidelio Trio (Darragh Morgan, Tim Gill, Marry Dullea)
Nicky Sweeney (violin)
Recorded in the Menuhin Hall, Stoke d'Abernon, Surrey, 1-2 May 2021

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1 comment:

  1. 'But there is no sense of special pleading, this is terrific music in fine performances and it deserves to be **hear** more.'

    Nice (perhaps unintentional) pun. ;)


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