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Ernest John MOERAN (1894–1950)
Cello Concerto (1945) [28:44]
Serenade in G (original version, 1948) [23:18]
Lonely Waters (c. 1931) [8:01]
Whythorne’s Shadow (1931) [5:01]
Guy Johnston (cello)
Rebekah Coffey (soprano)
Ulster Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
rec. Ulster Hall, Belfast, UK, 6 February 2012 (Cello Concerto); 5 February 2012. DDD
NAXOS 8.573034 [65:18]

Moeran wrote three concertante works: two concertos – one each for violin and for cello. There is also a piano concerto in all but name – the compact Rhapsody No. 3. The latter is a hyper-romantic work with, I always think, something of the British cinema of the 1940s about it. Given its title Moeran seems to have regarded it as more collegiate with his other two orchestral Rhapsodies than with the concertos.
 
Of the three the Cello Concerto always struck me as somewhat diffuse. This might have been to do with the under-powered Lyrita version played by the dedicatee, Peers Coetmore, long after she had passed her peak years – definitely a case of being over-parted. Nevertheless there is unique value in having a recording played by the composer’s wife.
 
It cannot entirely have been Coetmore’s ‘fault’. In the 1970s I sedulously recorded off the radio various English music relays. The Cello Concerto remained obstinately elusive despite what must surely have been a fine BBC studio broadcast in which the cellist was Thomas Igloi. I enjoyed the 1980s Wallfisch recording on Chandos (review review) but still found the work less than gripping. It has taken Guy Johnston and JoAnn Falletta (who has also recorded Bax and Holst) to bring it out of the shadows. This is a very caring performance with every phrase given weight and fibrous character. It remains introspective with bursts of extroversion. In that sense it parallels the Violin Concerto, which follows the pattern of the Delius concerto: slow-fast-slow. Here is a most wonderfully poetic work with a lovely shimmer and shiver of the strings at the end of first movement. It is suffused with the world of Sibelius’s Symphonies 4 and 6 - especially the latter. The music speaks eloquently, courtesy of the audio-engineering choices of Tim Handley and John Benson. It brings the listener full-on into close proximity with a work now revealed as husky and vital as well as contemplative.
 
The Serenade is heard here in its rare full version. Sadly, it lacks the moist fruitiness and emotional cogency of the Sinfonietta. This is more in the nature of a suite of movements. It sports some typically Moeran-style bustle from a composer who was always good at hustle-bustle in music. Some of this suggests the sort of studiedly antique medievalisms used by Walton in his roughly contemporary Henry V film music. Those titles (Prologue; Air; Intermezzo; Galop; Minuet; Rigadoon; Forlana; Epilogue) imply a neo-classical approach but Moeran is by no means a slave to Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. If anything the linkage is with his alcoholic nemesis Peter Warlock in the Capriol Suite. Alternative versions of the Serenade can be heard from Hickox, Handley and Basil Cameron but this is very good indeed.
 
The other two short pieces are Lonely Waters, which is vintage Irish-romantic Moeran, and a return to Warlockian ‘antiquitie’ in Whythorne’s Shadow. This Lonely Waters is unique in the record catalogue in that what we hear is the version with the brief pendant of Rebekah Coffey singing the folksong which inspired the piece in place of the usual cor anglais solo. She is recorded forwardly yet melds nicely with the orchestra.
 
The words of the song catch the mood of the music or vice versa:-
 
So I’ll go down to some lonely waters
Go down where no one can find me
Where the pretty little small birds do change their voices
And every moment blow blustering wild.
 
The liner notes are by Paul Conway – always a good read.
 
This very fine disc joins previous Naxos Moeran entries: the Symphony and the String Quartets.
 
Not to be missed by the serious Moeran enthusiast. Rewarding music-making by performers who have re-imagined the concerto.

Rob Barnett