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By Marion M SCOTT

PREMIERE - Elgar Cello Concerto

The Christian Science Monitor, Boston, USA, Saturday, 13th December 1919

A New Elgar Cello Concerto

By special correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

LONDON, England – The first concert this season of the London Symphony Orchestra took place at Queen’s Hall on October 27. It was rendered remarkable by two events – the production of Sir Edward Elgar’s new concerto for violoncello, and the conducting of Mr. Albert Coates. Musicians had marked the program beforehand as one of the most interesting this autumn: when the evening came, an audience representative of every branch of the profession streamed into Queen’s Hall, and their expectations were not belied. The concert was interesting – extraordinarily so: it still further enhanced Mr. Coates’ renown as a conductor, and if the new concerto did not carry Elgar beyond the heights he has already achieved as a composer, it at least did not fall below the elevation of thought he has taught us to hope for.

Borodin’s "Heroic Symphony" in B minor stood first on the program, a work of which the great Russian critic Stassov said: "It owes its strength chiefly to the national character of its subject," and as one listened, one could well believe that Borodin was "a national poet of Russia in the highest sense." The rendering of the symphony under Mr. Coates left nothing to be desired: it was spacious, masterful, glowing with color, and absolutely authoritative.

In the Place of Honor

Second on the program, in the place of honor, came Sir Edward Elgar’s new concerto for violoncello and orchestra. He himself conducted, and Mr. Felix Salmond played the solo part with rare finish, refinement of style, and consistency of characterization. It was more like the performance of some actor who completely merges himself in the part he plays than a virtuoso coming before an audience to exhibit his own abilities.

This new concerto is too big a work to analyze or appraise quickly. The most that can be done after a single hearing is to record the salient impressions received. Prominent among these is the one that Elgar’s conception of concerto form is totally different to that of the majority of composers. With him a concerto is not a public oration, nor a pyrotechnic display, but a psychological poem. It was so in his violin concerto; it is so in this. He feels the solo instrument to be as much a person as Browning felt his characters to be real in the "Dramatic Romances and Lyrics," and exactly as the characters speak for themselves – unfolding their ideas through his poems – so does the concerto deal with a subjective drama, the solo instrument expressing a sensitive, intimate train of thoughts in the language of music. This necessitates a wholly different attitude in soloist, orchestra, and audience from that usually taken toward a concerto, and while Mr. Salmond understood and acted upon it perfectly, one had a sense that the London Symphony Orchestra only partially apprehended their role in this work, fine as they are and well though they played.

The concerto had been contemplated by Elgar for some time before he wrote it in the summer of this year, and he bestowed special care on the balance of tone between the ‘cello and orchestra. He has solved the problem with singular success. The solo instrument is never entangled nor swamped by the accompaniment, and there is a lucent quality in the orchestration which removes all justification for a coarse or showy tone on the part of the ‘cellist.

The Scheme of the Work

The work is in four rather short movements, well contrasted, and it opens with an introduction (recitativo), which leads to the first movement proper. This in turn is joined to the scherzo by a bridge-passage of unusual interest and beauty, music that compels one to follow it with close and expectant attention wheresoever it may lead. But on arrival at the scherzo, interest flags, for the scherzo itself is the least satisfactory movement of the four. Though it is sparkling and graceful, it approximates to the type of a "Moto Perpetuo." However, the lyrical adagio which follows is pure "Elgar," and the finale (allegro non troppo) is the best and most strongly designed movement in the work, binding the whole thing together. This is largely due to a remarkable passage near the end, in which the solo instrument seems to review the concerto as Abt Vogler did his extemporization in Browning’s poem:

and I stand on alien ground.

Surveying awhile the heights I rolled

from into the deep.

Wagner’s "Waldweben," next on the program, came as a restful interlude after so much that was unfamiliar. It received a fine performance under Mr. Coates, but the climax of the evening lay in what followed – Scriabine’s "Poème de l’Extase." This splendid work, so large that it lies on the borderline between a symphony and a symphonic poem, expresses some of its composers profoundest conclusions, and while all music lovers may appreciate its beauty and intensity, it must always make a special appeal to composers, for in it Scriabine endeavors to convey the joy of the artist in the shaping of his work. The sequence of ideas and emotions, the harmonic methods and the orchestral structure of the "Poème de l’Extase" are extremely complex, but in Mr. Coates’ hands they became lucid and eloquent. The music seemed lambent with meaning, the audience caught the glow and were swept on to such a fervor of enthusiasm that they clapped and cheered long after it was over, recalling Albert Coates to the platform again and again.

The Christian Science Monitor, Boston, USA, Saturday, 13th December 1919

This article appears here with the kind permission of Pamela Blevins


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