Guy Johnston / JoAnn Falletta / Ulster Orchestra

Moeran: Cello Concerto

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Give props first of all to American conductor JoAnn Falletta, who here masters works outside her American music specialty, several of them fairly complex. None of the works by English-Irish composer E.J. Moeran this Naxos release is a world premiere, but none is exactly common. All were worth a new recording, and Falletta has sculpted convincing interpretations of each one. Moeran's style falls somewhere between those of Elgar and Vaughan Williams, with a strong mark of folk music in all four of these works. The Cello Concerto of 1945, one of Moeran's major works, has a stunning slow central movement that cellist Guy Johnston delivers with gorgeous calm. The Serenade in G major (1948), a series of short but rather overweight dance, is a bit like the neo-Baroque mode of Malipiero; the two small orchestral works at the end are stronger. Lonely Waters has a unique structure: it is a sort of series of views of an Irish folk song, with the actual song introduced by soprano Rebekah Coffey at the end. That work and the concluding Whythorne's Shadow were both composed around 1931. Moeran once quipped that if he were arrested and had to state his profession, he would say "madrigalist," and Whythorne's Shadow reflects that interest. It is based on the madrigal As Thy Shadow Itself Apply'th by little-known Elizabethan composer Thomas Whythorne. The madrigal tune appears at the beginning, but the work is not a fantasy on the madrigal; the shadow metaphor describes it perfectly. The four works call for slightly different modes of expression in each case, and Falletta and the Ulster Orchestra adjust generally very well. The sole exception might be the finale of the Cello Concerto, which seems to call for a more vigorous presentation to balance the dense, tough opening movement and the deep repose of the slow movement. Nevertheless, it's recommended for those interested in British music from the first half of the 20th century.

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