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MET CONCERT #5

CELLO CONCERTO IN E MINOR, OP. 85
ELGAR, EDWARD (1857-1934)
  1. Adagio-Moderato
  2. Lento-Allegro molto
  3. Adagio
  4. Allegro, ma non troppo

Having been shocked and appalled by the senseless waste of life in the Great War, Elgar composed very little during the four year duration of the war. In August 1918, his initial withdrawal from composition turned around and he threw himself into composing again, writing four works that are considered some of his finest. His Cello Concerto was the last of these compositions, and it is an outpouring of emotion at Elgar’s response to the suffering and destruction that Europe had endured. Elgar asked cellist Felix Salmond to premiere his new Concerto, but unfortunately the first performance suffered from a lack of rehearsal and was considered a disappointment.

The entire work is unified with recurring themes throughout the four movements, and in Elgar’s style is noble in nature and rich in texture. A short recitative for the solo cello opens the concerto, with a theme then introduced by the violas. A second theme is then introduced by the clarinets, before the first them returns soon after, and moves directly to the second movement. Pizzicato chords from the soloist open the second movement, and what follows is a furtive, lively scherzo. The soul of the Concerto lies in the Adagio third movement, with a reduced orchestration for this movement allowing the solo cello to sing tenderly over the orchestra. Similar to the first movement, the finale opens with a recitative from the solo cello, and despite the spirited, jaunty music that follows, we can sense an underlying sadness. As the work nears its conclusion, the cello breaks our hearts with a solo from the adagio, and when the orchestra sweeps in, we are swept to a rousing conclusion with three final chords.
 

SYMPHONY IN D MINOR
FRANCK, CÉSAR (1822-1890)
  1. Lento – Allegro ma non troppo
  2. Allegretto
  3. Finale: Allegro non troppo

Franck was acclaimed as a musical prodigy as a child, making his first tour as a virtuoso young pianist and organist at the age of eleven. In 1835, he moved to Paris to study at the Paris Conservatoire. His Belgian heritage excluded him from initial entry, and it wasn’t until his father obtained French naturalisation papers that he was able to attend. Despite winning many awards and displaying an impressive talent for composition, his father, who managed the young César’s career, organised recital tours for him, and actively discouraged him from composing.

It wasn’t until much later in life that Franck returned to composing, and his only major Symphony was composed between 1866-8, and at the conclusion of its premiere in 1889, was received poorly by critics and academics. Prior to the premiere, Franck arranged a version of the symphony for piano duet, hoping that the success of his work would cause audiences to want to take it home with them.

The early three movement symphonic form was adopted by Franck for this work, and indeed he used a three movement structure for nearly all of his major works. The first movement begins with a low string motif, which evolves from the Lento, then through the orchestra until it reaches the Allegro non troppo. A cyclic treatment of the Lento theme from this movement provides unity throughout the Symphony. Trumpets lead the rest of the orchestra in the ‘Motif of Faith’, which was used by composers such as Lizst and Wagner in their own works.

The second, Allegretto movement features a haunting english horn melody accompanied by harp and strings. Unlike the traditional slow central movement of a symphony, Franck seems to hint at a dance-like feel, teetering between a true slow movement and a dance.

The cyclical treatment continues in the Finale, and Franck explained of this movement:

The finale takes up all the themes again, as in Beethoven’s Ninth. They do not return as quotations, however, I have elaborated them the role of new elements.

Opening with a D major melody, contrasted by another melody that soon enters, the english horn melody from the Allegretto  movement then enters. Franck uses all three of these themes together, and the movement reaches its climax with the whole orchestra adopting the english horn theme. The second theme from the first movement then re-enters, and a resounding statement of the opening three-note motif from the first movement ensures a triumphant conclusion to what was to be his only symphony.