Author Topic: British Composers of Cello Concertos  (Read 17795 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Dundonnell

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 3599
  • Edmund Rubbra(1901-86)
British Composers of Cello Concertos
« on: February 12, 2008, 05:32:36 PM »
There is a relatively rich collection of Cello Concertos by British composers. This tends to contrast with the situation in many other countries in which few major composers have produced a cello concerto. (I know of 7 cello concertos by major American composers-those by Samuel Barber, Philip Glass, Alan Hovhaness, Peter Mennin, Ned Rorem, Christopher Rouse and Virgil Thomson-although David Diamond, Walter Piston and William Schuman wrote concertante works for cello and orchestra).

Currently on CD there are-
multiple versions of the Britten Cello Symphony, and the Elgar and Walton Cello Concerti
4 versions of the Bridge Oration(Alexander Baillie, Alban Gerhardt, Steven Isserlis and Julian Lloyd Webber)
3 of the Bliss Cello Concerto(Robert Cohen, Tim Hugh and Raphael Wallfisch)
3 of the Delius Cello Concerto(Jacqueline du Pre, Julian Lloyd Webber and Raphael Wallfisch)
3 of the Finzi Cello Concerto(Tim Hugh, Yo-Yo Ma and Raphael Wallfisch)

and single versions of the Bax(Raphael Wallfisch), Michael Berkeley(Alban Gerhardt), William Busch(Raphael Wallfisch), Gordon Crosse(Alexander Baillie), Kenneth Leighton(Raphael Wallfisch), George Lloyd(Anthony Ross), James Macmillan(Raphael Wallfisch), Moeran(Raphael Wallfisch), Rawsthorne(Alexander Baillie), Cyril Scott(Paul Watkins), Stanford(Alexander Baillie), Bernard Stevens(Alexander Baillie), Sullivan(Julian Lloyd Webber), Tovey(Alice Neary), Hugh Wood(Moray Welsh)

So..what still remains to be recorded? Well, Arnold Cooke and Joseph Holbrooke wrote a cello concerto each but I would suggest that recording companies and cellists look at the two glaring omissions- the cello concertos by Havergal Brian and Robert Simpson. Both are comparatively short works(21 and 23 minutes respectively) and scored for modest orchestral resources-believe it or not in the case of the Brian!

I don't doubt the quality of most of the concertos which have been recorded but I certainly think that if the Bliss has three current versions available and if the Bax and Moeran(not those composers' strongest works) are available then the Brian and Simpson should join them on CD.

Come on Naxos(Brian) or Hyperion(Simpson)?

Offline Lethevich

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 9758
  • I spilled my drink!
  • Currently Listening to:
    Rihm, Bialas, Ballif, Schumann, Schubert
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2008, 08:42:41 PM »
I await a completion of RVW's unfinished one. Even a single movement would be fine 0:)

IIRC, Hyperion has lost interest in recording any more Simpson for now, due to low sales of the existing discs. I could envisage a disc on Chandos perhaps containing both the Brian and the Simpson, along with some filler - they would be an interesting coupling, and should get decent sales simply because every Brian AND Simpson fan will be buying it... Any enterprising label should take note...
Peanut butter, flour and sugar do not make cookies. They make FIRE.

Offline The new erato

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 14626
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #2 on: February 13, 2008, 12:56:45 AM »
I think Rubbras Soliloquiy also deserves a mention in this company.

Offline vandermolen

  • Silver Subscriber
  • *
  • *
  • Posts: 14921
  • Location: Rotherfield, Sussex, UK
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #3 on: February 13, 2008, 01:35:12 AM »
Bridge's Oration is, by far, my favourite British Cello Concerto. I also have a very high opinion of the Moeran Cello Concerto. His last great work in my view.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline Dundonnell

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 3599
  • Edmund Rubbra(1901-86)
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2008, 05:54:13 AM »
I think Rubbras Soliloquiy also deserves a mention in this company.

Yes, I absolutely agree! I did consider including this lovely work. I actually have three versions of the Soliloquy-played by Raphael Sommer(BBC Classics), Rohan de Saram(Lyrita) and Raphael Wallfisch(White Line). (Incidentally, the White Line CD also contains the Cello Concerto No.2 by Herbert Murrill, Sir George Dyson's Prelude, Fantasy and Chaconne for cello and orchestra and Haydn Wood's Philharmonic Variations for cello and orchestra!).

I can't understand why Chandos did not continue their Rubbra symphony series to include the concertos(they did record the Sinfonia Concertante for piano and orchestra). We do have modern recordings of the Violin(Naxos) and Viola (Hyperion) and Tasmin Little's version of both these concertos can still be found but we desperately need a new, modern version of the wonderful Piano Concerto-not recorded since the 1976 Malcolm Binns recording on BBC Classics.

Offline Dundonnell

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 3599
  • Edmund Rubbra(1901-86)
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #5 on: February 13, 2008, 05:59:05 AM »
Bridge's Oration is, by far, my favourite British Cello Concerto. I also have a very high opinion of the Moeran Cello Concerto. His last great work in my view.

There will-presumably-be a future reissue of the Moeran played by the composer's widow, Peers Coetmore, on Lyrita.

I shall give the Moeran another listen. Perhaps I have underestimated the piece!

karlhenning

  • Guest
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2008, 06:26:22 AM »
Bridge's Oration is, by far, my favourite British Cello Concerto.

Do you have a preferred recording?

Offline vandermolen

  • Silver Subscriber
  • *
  • *
  • Posts: 14921
  • Location: Rotherfield, Sussex, UK
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #7 on: February 13, 2008, 08:13:19 AM »
There will-presumably-be a future reissue of the Moeran played by the composer's widow, Peers Coetmore, on Lyrita.

I shall give the Moeran another listen. Perhaps I have underestimated the piece!

Yes, Lyrita will release that in due course. There were some poor reviews of Coetmore's "amateurish performance", the suggestion being that she was only selected to perform the work as she was Moeran's wife. Personally, I always found hers to be (maybe unsurprisingly) the most deeply felt of all.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 8829
  • William Havergal Brian, symphonist (1876-1972)
    • JZH Text Services
  • Location: Delft, Netherlands
  • Currently Listening to:
    Bruckner, Wagner, Brian, Bax, Dyson, Delius...
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #8 on: February 13, 2008, 08:17:15 AM »
Another 'Oration' fan here (I only know the Lyrita).

And I don't know the Brian Cello Concerto...
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline Dundonnell

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 3599
  • Edmund Rubbra(1901-86)
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #9 on: February 13, 2008, 08:48:09 AM »
Another 'Oration' fan here (I only know the Lyrita).

And I don't know the Brian Cello Concerto...

Malcolm MacDonald, in Vol. 2 of his book on the Brian symphonies, describes the Cello Concerto as " a sort of 'chamber concerto',  predominately sunny...not major Brian but a lovable work and a distinguished addition to the cello repertoire". It is scored for strings, woodwind, 4 horns and side-drum(which, by Brian standards, is positively spartan!).

Given the reference to the Rubbra Soliloquy, I should also probably mention the Holst Invocation and the Herbert Howells Fantasia and the Threnody(which are available on CD),  Sir Lennox Berkeley's Dialogues, Alan Bush's Concert Suite and the Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Sussex Folk Tunes(which I have never heard).

I also omitted the late Cello Concerto by Sir Malcolm Arnold, op 136 which-as far as I know-still awaits a recording despite the recent interest in Arnold's music.

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 8829
  • William Havergal Brian, symphonist (1876-1972)
    • JZH Text Services
  • Location: Delft, Netherlands
  • Currently Listening to:
    Bruckner, Wagner, Brian, Bax, Dyson, Delius...
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #10 on: February 13, 2008, 08:54:54 AM »
Malcolm MacDonald, in Vol. 2 of his book on the Brian symphonies, describes the Cello Concerto as " a sort of 'chamber concerto',  predominately sunny...not major Brian but a lovable work and a distinguished addition to the cello repertoire". It is scored for strings, woodwind, 4 horns and side-drum(which, by Brian standards, is positively spartan!).

Anorexic is the word! (I know that description, of course - MM's volumes were all I had in the early 1980s, when I hadn't yet joined the HBS and only knew symphonies 6, 8 ,9 ,10, 21 and 22...)
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline Dundonnell

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 3599
  • Edmund Rubbra(1901-86)
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #11 on: February 13, 2008, 08:56:32 AM »
Anorexic is the word! (I know that description, of course - MM's volumes were all I had in the early 1980s, when I hadn't yet joined the HBS and only knew symphonies 6, 8 ,9 ,10, 21 and 22...)

Yes, I will go with "anorexic"!!!

Offline vandermolen

  • Silver Subscriber
  • *
  • *
  • Posts: 14921
  • Location: Rotherfield, Sussex, UK
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #12 on: February 13, 2008, 08:59:07 AM »
Another 'Oration' fan here (I only know the Lyrita).

And I don't know the Brian Cello Concerto...

The Lyrita Oration is an excellent performance too.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

lukeottevanger

  • Guest
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #13 on: February 14, 2008, 03:15:03 AM »
I'm sure Guido, resident cello concerto expert, will know of dozens of British cello concerti not on the initial list. Ones which occur to me (I haven't heard all of them, though) are the ultra-lyrical Bryars, the Harvey (a real cello specialist, here) and those by Foulds, Maxwell Davies, Beamish, Saxton and Casken.  Howells didn't finish his but the two completed movements can be performed (sounds promising, but I'm not too impressed by the first movement).

Offline Dundonnell

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 3599
  • Edmund Rubbra(1901-86)
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #14 on: February 14, 2008, 03:56:47 AM »
I'm sure Guido, resident cello concerto expert, will know of dozens of British cello concerti not on the initial list. Ones which occur to me (I haven't heard all of them, though) are the ultra-lyrical Bryars, the Harvey (a real cello specialist, here) and those by Foulds, Maxwell Davies, Beamish, Saxton and Casken.  Howells didn't finish his but the two completed movements can be performed (sounds promising, but I'm not too impressed by the first movement).

You are, of course, quite correct! I am afraid that I am not familiar with the works of the younger generation of British composers but it was particularly good of you to remind me of the early Foulds Cello Concerto(first performed in 1911 at Hans Richter's last concert with the Halle Orchestra and broadcast by the BBC in the 1980s) and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's Strathclyde Concerto No.2 for cello and orchestra-which I have not heard.

The two movements of the unfinished Howells Cello Concerto are now known as the Fantasia and Threnody(recorded by Chandos) are they not?

lukeottevanger

  • Guest
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #15 on: February 14, 2008, 03:59:40 AM »
You are, of course, quite correct! I am afraid that I am not familiar with the works of the younger generation of British composers but it was particularly good of you to remind me of the early Foulds Cello Concerto(first performed in 1911 at Hans Richter's last concert with the Halle Orchestra and broadcast by the BBC in the 1980s) and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's Strathclyde Concerto No.2 for cello and orchestra-which I have not heard.

The two movements of the unfinished Howells Cello Concerto are now known as the Fantasia and Threnody(recorded by Chandos) are they not?

I hadn't heard of that disc, but I'm sure you are right - I've only heard the first movement, which is coupled with the Hymnus Paradisi on a BBC Radio Classics CD. It seems to ramble, to my ears, unlike the best Howelss.

Offline Dundonnell

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 3599
  • Edmund Rubbra(1901-86)
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #16 on: February 14, 2008, 04:31:43 AM »
I hadn't heard of that disc, but I'm sure you are right - I've only heard the first movement, which is coupled with the Hymnus Paradisi on a BBC Radio Classics CD. It seems to ramble, to my ears, unlike the best Howelss.

Chandos CHAN 9410-London Symphony Orchestra(Richard Hickox)-"King's Herald" arr. for orchestra and organ from the suite "Pageantry"; Paradise Rondel; Pastoral Rhapsody; Procession; Fantasia for Cello and Orchestra; and Threnody for Cello and Orchestra(Moray Welsh, cello).

The Fantasia might have become the Cello Concerto's first movement while the Threnody was to have been the slow movement(the piano score was orchestrated by Christopher Palmer).

Offline Guido

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 3326
  • 396 CCs
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #17 on: February 14, 2008, 11:43:15 AM »
Warning: the below is ridiculously prolix and may not be worth reading!

Good to see another English cello concerto fan on these boards Dundonnell! I have heard all of the works that you list (the recorded ones) and I have to say that I think that there are more fine cello concertos by English composers than any other country. I am certainly not saying that cello concertos from other countries are not as good (!) - My favourite cello concertos derive from composers of all nationalities, but there seems to be some curious afinity for cello concerto writing in English composers born in the early twentieth century. I have often wondered why this is, and have come up with a few possible reasons. Elgar's cello concerto is I think we can agree the first great English cello concerto. Though Stanford composed one nice concerto in the late 19th century it would be difficult to consider it a masterpiece. This may have set a precident for a standard of cello concerto writing amongst other British composers. It's interesting to note that English composers often produced cello concertos later in life when they were in full command of their compositional powers -
Elgar - composed in 1919 aged 62
Delius – composed in 1921 aged 61
Bridge - composed in 1930 aged 51
Bax - composed in 1953 aged 49
Tovey – composed in 1936 aged 61
Howells – composed in 1937 aged 45
Moeran composed in 1945 aged 51
Finzi – composed in 1955 aged 54
Walton - composed in 1956 aged 54
Britten – composed in 1963 aged 50
Bliss – composed in 1970 aged 79(!)

Two naturalised ‘English’ composers also might be considered in this list:
Goldschmidt – composed in 1953 aged 50
Panufnik – composed in 1991 aged 77

Many of these composers had previously produced violin concertos. I am not just picking and choosing – I believe that these composers wrote the finest English cello concertos. Perhaps it is also because of the relative difficulty of writing cello concertos in that extremely careful orchestration must be used in order that the solo cello isn’t easily covered. Perhaps, after Elgar’s example, the cello concerto in England was destined to be the vehicle of an aging composers melancholic thoughts and concerns, perhaps due to the nature of the cello’s ‘natural’ voice. Perhaps the cello naturally lends itself to ‘the English style’ of composition. An alternative explanation could be the growing popularity of the cello concerto as a genre in the twentieth century. I could continue listing guesses, but what we have is a body of cello concertos with a consistence of quality and that is of quite a rare order. While Barber’s cello concerto (1945) is a true masterpiece, the number of other American cello concertos of similar quality from this period small.  Works by Schulman, Schuman, Piston, Mennin, Thomson, Diamond, Glass, Hovhaness, Rorem, Schuller and Stevens are all of variable quality. In more recent years, more brilliant works have appeared – Feldman’s Cello and Orchestra 1972, and Albert’s (1990) and Carter’s (2001) are both great as is Williams’ (1994). The three works by Rouse, Danielpour and Kirchner that Ma premiered and recorded in the early 90’s are also all quite fine.

This is not to say that all English cello concertos are great, but those by the more famous composers are generally amongst the best of their output.

Lennox Berkeley’s cello concerto is a youthful work (1937) but not up to the standard of the other pieces on the list – the late Dialogue for cello and orchestra (1970) is also interesting. Leighton’s concerto was composed when he was very young, and is a fine piece, but I make no claims to be being scientific, only that I have noticed a general trend!

Oh Christ, I have far too much time on my hands! Please feel free to ignore all of the boring above!

I agree that the Fantasia rambles but both of Howells' works for cello and orchestra are really very beautiful.

Goehr’s Romanza is one that I haven’t heard (and apt for today!) but is apparently inspired by Janacek, so I’d like to hear that one.

I also have a rather higher opinion of the Moeran - Raphael Wallfisch's account is rather brilliant (and Coetmore's certainly isn't).  The Bliss concerto is one of my favourite pieces and I am convinced that its relative neglect is only to do with the high demands that are placed on the soloist. The Walton, Finzi, Bridge and Britten works are all pieces of the front rank.

Concertante works that you haven't yet mentioned are Holst's wonderful invocation and also the two by Hoddinott - Nocturnes and Cadenza's and the even finer Noctus Equi (written for Rostropovich). Then there are Tavener's works - The Protecting Veil which is quite phenominal and the less ambitious but still quite fine Eternal Memory. Casken's concerto is also brilliant. There are a few other works (Judith Wier, , but I think you have covered most of the ones that are most worth mentioning.

I agree that there are others that need recordings. Fould's is at the top of my list - Wallfisch 'repremiered' and broadcast the piece in the late 80s on BBC Radio 3 but they can't find the recording in their archives at present! It is by all accounts a brilliant work, as good, if not better than the cello sonata. Cyril Scott's concerto was recently recorded and it's quite a nice piece (nothing earth shattering), but the piece The Melodist and the Nightingales is a really fine achievement to my ears, at least as much as I have heard of it - this really does need a recording. I would love to hear Brian's concerto and also those by Osborne, Cooke, Stevenson, Joseph, Rainier and Parrott (the last one very much so).
Geologist.

The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away

Offline J

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 181
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #18 on: February 14, 2008, 12:36:28 PM »
There's a recording issued on CD of the cello concerto by Minna Keal I remember as quite good, - and Nicholas Maw also wrote an extended piece for cello & orchestra ("Sonata Notturna") issued on Nimbus.  A new Nimbus issue (with Wallfisch) has the cello concerto of Paul Patterson together with "Epyllion" (for cello & orchestra) by Elizabeth Machonchy.
« Last Edit: February 14, 2008, 12:47:14 PM by J »

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 8829
  • William Havergal Brian, symphonist (1876-1972)
    • JZH Text Services
  • Location: Delft, Netherlands
  • Currently Listening to:
    Bruckner, Wagner, Brian, Bax, Dyson, Delius...
Re: British Composers of Cello Concertos
« Reply #19 on: February 14, 2008, 12:54:18 PM »
Brian was 88 (!) when he wrote his Cello Concerto. I just re-read what Malcolm MacDonald has to say about it, and he calls it a bit of a 'sport'. So I don't think Brian's addition to the genre is among the most distinguished, alas...
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato