Edward Elgar

Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85

    Description by Blair Johnston

    Edward Elgar's Concerto for cello and orchestra in E minor, from the year 1919, is the last major work the composer penned (a Third Symphony remained in draft form at his death in 1934). While the instrumental forces remain basically equivalent to those used in the Violin Concerto, Elgar has amplified the tender, searching intimacy of that earlier work to such a degree that one might call the Cello Concerto not just introspective but searing and almost ascetic. It is an exceedingly complex but immediately touching work that makes a fitting epilogue to Elgar's lifetime in music.

    The concerto is poured into a four-movement mold, yet still takes only about half an hour to perform -- far less than any of Elgar's other large instrumental works. This restraint is mirrored by remarkably transparent orchestration. The work begins with four bars of solo cello recitative that firmly outline the home key of E minor. The subsequent Moderato entrance of the orchestra offers little immediate support for that key, really winding down to the tonic only after six bars of restless 9/8 melody built on a single rhythmic cell. During the 12/8 middle section Elgar makes good use of the contrast between E minor and E major. A recapitulation of the opening is made, but soon enough the movement has dissolved into a handful of uncertain pizzicati.

    Elgar brings back the opening recitative, much altered (and buoyantly beginning where the first movement's pizzicati left off), to begin the following Scherzo. After twice pleading with the orchestra to join its cause, the cello finally rouses the group into an eighth note driven perpetual motion (Allegro molto). Elgar paints a miniature portrait of his own very characteristic lyric style in the relatively brief E flat major second theme.

    A wonderful melody in B flat major is sung by the soloist throughout the Adagio third movement. Here Elgar's indebtedness to Schumann, the slow movement of whose own cello concerto also employs this song without words approach, is clearly evident. The life span of this one melodic strand is a bare 60 bars, yet it conveys deeper passion than do five times that many bars of the composer's earlier music. The movement ends on the dominant, paving the way for an attacca opening of the Finale.

    After initially falling in with the B flat major of the Adagio, the Finale makes an eight-bar move back to its rightful E minor tonal center. The main idea of the movement (marked, like so many of the composer's favorite thoughts, "nobilmente") is given out first by the soloist in half-recitative and then, after a rude tutti interruption and a brief pause, by the entire ensemble, Allegro non troppo. A second theme recalls both the G major tonality and the impish sentiment of the Scherzo movement. As the Finale draws near its finish, Elgar undertakes an extended and very moving reminiscence: first on the melody of the Adagio movement and then reaching back to the recitative that began the entire half-hour journey. Two terse chords re-energize the movement's fast-twitch muscle fiber, and 16 bars later the curtain comes down.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Adagio - Moderato
    2. Lento - Allegro molto
    3. Adagio
    4. Allegro - Moderato - Allegro ma non troppo

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2019
    Various Artists
    Brilliant Classics
    BRI 95782
    2019
    Somm
    ARIADNE 5005
    2018
    Danacord
    DACOCD 780
    2018
    Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler
    PH 18017
    2018
    Alpha
    283
    2017
    Ars Produktion
    ARS 38221
    2017
    PentaTone Classics
    PTC 5186570
    2017
    ABC Classics
    2017
    Oehms Classics
    OC 1883
    2017
    Naxos
    8503293
    2016
    Sony Classical
    88985342962
    2016
    Hyperion
    CDA 68077
    2016
    ABC Classics
    2016
    Somm
    SOMMCD 2614
    2016
    Warner Classics
    0825646480401
    2016
    Urania / Urania Records
    WS 121160
    2015
    Warner Classics
    0825646076000
    2015
    Alto
    MCSCD 1265
    2015
    Deutsche Grammophon
    002894795229
    2015
    Sony Classics
    513074
    2014
    ABC Classics
    4811243
    2014
    Decca
    2013
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2013
    Entertainment Group
    14166
    2013
    Telarc
    TEL 3403002
    2013
    Telarc
    TEL 34362-25
    2013
    Telarc
    2013
    Harmonia Mundi
    HMC 902148
    2013
    Heritage
    HTGCD 245
    2013
    Supraphon
    SU 41322
    2013
    Erato
    5099961581029
    2013
    Sony Classical
    88765438572
    2012
    Danacord
    DACOCD 724
    2012
    Entertainment Group
    4046
    2012
    Decca
    2012
    Decca
    2012
    Decca
    001759202
    2012
    Chandos
    CHAN 10709
    2012
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099962307
    2012
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099995590
    2012
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4783619
    2012
    Decca / Deutsche Grammophon
    2012
    Avie
    AV 2237
    2012
    Broken Audio
    BRAUR 0173
    2012
    Concerto / Zebralution
    2011
    Music & Arts
    CD 1257
    2011
    CBS Records Masterworks
    88697551682
    2011
    Decca
    2011
    IDIS
    6624
    2011
    ABC Classics / Decca
    ABC 4764297
    2011
    BBC Legends
    BBCL 50052
    2011
    Regis Records
    RRC 5010
    2011
    ABC Classics
    ABC 4805901
    2010
    RCA Red Seal
    7658242
    2010
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099996593
    2010
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    509996886272
    2010
    West Hill Radio Archives
    6032
    2009
    Sony Classical
    752307
    2009
    Denon Records
    00795041956927
    2009
    Erato / Virgin Classics
    5099968635
    2009
    Virgin
    2009
    Ondine
    1153
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    EMI Classics
    2009
    Documents / Membrane
    232768
    2009
    Doremi Records
    7974
    2008
    Various Artists
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099921750
    2008
    Signum UK
    116
    2008
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099921757
    2008
    Classics for Pleasure
    2008
    BBC Legends / BBC Music
    42442
    2008
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099950140
    2008
    BBC Legends / BBC Music
    42362
    2008
    Medici Arts
    28-2
    2008
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4745612
    2008
    EMI Classics
    562886
    2008
    Regis Records
    1150
    2008
    Warner Classics
    2008
    EMI Classics
    09442
    2008
    EMI Classics
    586597
    2007
    Various Artists
    EMI Music Distribution
    2007
    Warner Classics
    2007
    LPO
    16
    2007
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099950360
    2007
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099950416
    2007
    Decca
    4758566
    2006
    Chandos
    CHAN2021
    2006
    Nimbus
    5763
    2006
    Apex
    0927-40600-2
    2006
    Orfeo
    621061
    2006
    Sony Music Distribution
    78737
    2006
    Prism Leisure
    1263
    2006
    EMI Music Distribution
    67918
    2006
    BBC Music
    4198
    2006
    DHR
    7711
    2005
    MediaTag
    11
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    EMI Music Distribution
    62953
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    Living Era
    8557
    2005
    ABC Classics
    4767966
    2005
    Virgin Classics
    2005
    EMI
    2005
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4775427
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2004
    EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution
    562952-2
    2004
    Naïve
    V 4961
    2004
    Sony Classical
    92763
    2004
    EMI Music Distribution
    62887
    2004
    Avid
    587
    2004
    Halle Concerts Society
    7505
    2004
    Rca Red Seal
    60389
    2003
    Virgin Classics
    2003
    EMI Classics
    2003
    EMI Classics
    2002
    Classica d'Oro
    4007
    2002
    Classica d'Oro
    1054
    2002
    Decca
    473 249-2
    2002
    Classica d'Oro
    9003
    2001
    St. Clair
    7359
    2001
    Testament
    1204
    2001
    CBC Records
    5153
    2001
    Unesco
    707152
    2001
    Sony Classical
    63247
    2001
    Channel Classics
    1498
    2001
    Pearl
    0143
    2000
    Tring
    001
    2000
    Decca
    2000
    Philips / Philips Classics
    4681812
    2000
    Tring
    061
    2000
    EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    7243567341
    1999
    EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    7243565955
    1999
    Virgin
    45356
    1999
    Pearl
    9951
    1999
    Sony Music Distribution
    60789
    1999
    Argo
    436545
    1999
    Warner Classics
    1999
    Intersound
    2868
    1999
    Decca
    460624
    1999
    Naxos
    554409
    1999
    Pearl
    GEM0050
    1999
    Various Artists
    Platinum Entertainment
    3859
    1999
    Channel Classics
    12998
    1999
    Gega
    115
    1998
    Grammofono 2000
    78771
    1998
    RCA
    09026 61695-2
    1998
    Sony Music Distribution
    60394
    1998
    Virgin
    61490
    1997
    EMI Music Distribution
    56219
    1997
    Sony Music Distribution
    63247
    1997
    Biddulph Recordings
    144
    1996
    Carlton
    6600112
    1996
    Testament
    2025
    1996
    BNA
    5094
    1995
    EMI Music Distribution
    68837
    1995
    Hallmark Recordings
    350062
    1994
    Naxos
    550503
    1994
    Virgin
    61125
    1994
    Deutsche Grammophon
    445 511-2GMA
    1994
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    7243568132
    1994
    BIS
    486
    1994
    Chandos
    6607
    1993
    IMP Classics
    930
    1993
    EMI Music Distribution
    9003
    1993
    Belart/Karussell
    450 021-2
    1991
    EMI Music Distribution
    63955
    1991
    Deutsche Grammophon
    431685
    1990
    EMI Music Distribution
    63498
    1989
    EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    0777763283
    1989
    CBS Records / Columbia
    44562
    1989
    Angel Records / EMI Music Distribution
    69707
    1988
    Deutsche Grammophon / Universal
    1988
    CBS Masterworks
    76529
    1986
    Philips
    416354
    1986
    EMI Music Distribution
    47329
    1985
    CBS Records
    39541
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4777352
    Various Artists
    Musicbank
    Philips
    412880
    Gemini Collection
    611
    Music & Arts
    5031
    Dutton Vocalion
    9776
    Fono Enterprise
    99329
    Finlandia
    95768
    IMP BBC Radio Classics
    9111
    EMI
    69200
    Conifer
    18438
    Conifer
    51507
    Testament
    1388
    BBC Music Magazine
    111
    Supraphon
    110390
    Royal Philharmonic Masterworks
    28680
    IMP Classics
    1098
    Intaglio
    735
    Russian Disc
    11104
    Virgin
    59643
    Musicbank
    6017
    Apollo Music
    333
    EMI Music Distribution
    769786
    Monopoly
    2006
    Magic Talent
    48072
    Various Artists
    Deutsche Grammophon
    469 136-2GP2
    RPO
    7005
    Medici Quartet
    7001
    Beulah
    2PD15