The works on this disc constitute a budget-price reissue on the Chandos Enchant label, and include both of Moeran's evocative string concertos. The Violin Concerto, arguably the composer's finest orchestral work, is played by the Ulster Orchestra under the masterful baton of the late Vernon Handley, a noted Moeran enthusiast, with Lydia Mordkovitch as soloist. Unusually, the two outer movements are comparatively slow, framing a lively middle movement. The concerto has a rhapsodic, autumnal feel, and Moeran reveals that it was inspired by his love for the landscape and people of County Kerry in the west of Ireland. The jig-like vivace conjures up visions of the Puck Fairs that took place in that part of the world. There are moments of heart-rending beauty, especially in the final movement, before soloist and orchestra meander to a gentle and resigned close. It has been noted by Stephen Banfield that the opening phase of that movement resembles the opening of the last of Moeran's Seven Poems of James Joyce ("Now, O now in this brown land..."), and it is certainly true that the mood of these poems coincides exactly with that of Moeran's music.
The Cello Concerto was written in 1945 for Peers Coetmore who was soon to become Moeran's wife, and there is a Lyrita recording of her performing it. Here, however, Raphael Wallfisch is the soloist, with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta conducted by Norman Del Mar. Although there are some vigorous, dance-like moments, the cello generally sings throughout the three movements with a sad lyricism, and the Kerry landscape is never far away. The mood, in fact is very much that of the Violin Concerto.
The two shorter pieces on this disc were conceived in the late twenties and early thirties. Lonely Waters is essentially an orchestral rhapsody which offers a comparatively rare example of Moeran actually quoting a folksong (from Norfolk in this case), rather than simply using folksong inflections. In one version a singer is used to render the final verse of the song, but in the version recorded here a cor anglais is substitued.
The source of the other piece, Whythorne's Shadow, is a song by Thomas Whythorne (1528-96). Many critics of the 1920s had a low opinion of Whythorne as a composer - one which Moeran's friend Philip Heseltine (alias Peter Warlock) took great pains to dispel. This little work surely betrays that fact that Moeran shared Heseltine's appreciation of this forgotten Elizabethan composer.
I agree 100% with SH Smith's excellent review so I'll not repeat what is said there. Why haven't I given five stars? Chandos were famed for their excellent sound - spacious and bright. In this recording that is just taken a little too far: when are you ever likely to hear this music sound so bright, yet distant and resonant in a concert hall? They've gone a bit too far. That said, you can't complain when you can hear every note an dyou can appreciate the fine musicianship throughout.
SH Smith said that the violin concerto is Moeran's finest work. I'm surprised to say that I agree 100% with that too. His symphony in G Minor is one of the greatest of all English symphonies, full of the nostalgia and love of landscape that you find in this concerto. It has the added ingredient of the pain and bitterness that troubled the alcoholic composer. It is very powerful in its impact. The concerto has none of that pain. The nostalgia, landscape and fairs of Ireland are all prominent along with autumnal shades of brown in the orchestration and harmonies.
However in spite of its rhapsodic nature and a slow-fast-slow layout, almost guaranteed to disappoint in the concert hall, this is a remarkably assured and confident piece of writing and to carry off this form with such assurance of technique is a great achievement. It's pastoral nostalgia might not win many friends beyond these shores but make no mistake; this is one of the finest violin concertos of the twentieth century. The finale opens with the sounds of regret but Moeran's skilful command of harmony leads the music almost imperceptibly into a warmer and mellower place with the most satisfying, yet understated, conclusion. Fantastic!
"Lonely Waters" offers a glimpse of the pain found in the Symphony even if he explicitly used a folk song. Like all the other works here whilst there is a clear homage to Vaughan Williams the influence, harmonically at least, of Delius is even stronger. That was the case too for his close friend and drinking partner Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock). The link between the two is evident in Whythorne's Shadow - not a million miles from the Capriol Suite and Warlock's Serenade.
The Cello Concerto covers similar ground to the Violin Concerto with perhaps a greater touch of melancholy. It's a fine work but the Violin Concerto hits the greater heights. That's not to belittle a very fine cello concerto superbly performed by Rafael Wallfisch. You just might want to listen to this at a another sitting given the two work's simmilarity.
Perhaps four stars because of the sonics is being harsh so think of this as four and a half. Moeran may have seemed out of touch, being one of the last English "pastoralists", but that matters for nothing now - it was just a case of passing fashion. Moeran, however, was an extremely accomplished composer: class, as they say is permanent.
on 8 December 2009
Having discovered that Ernest Moeran lived in nearby Eynsford in the 1920s I was keen to hear some of his music. His violin concerto is rated highly but little heard these days so we invited some friends around and with some wine and cheese in hand we listened to this recording. We were not disappointed, it is simply wonderful; gentle and melodious and wisks your mind into that beautiful country in the Darent Valley. Lydia Mordsksvitch's playing is of high quality and the final movement is particularly delightful.
on 9 January 2013
If so you'll love this slightly less well-known composer's work. Some of the muso snobs would call this "cow-pat music". They are thus revealing themselves as the sad, fad-oriented snobs that they are. RVW and his peers have written some of the best-loved music of the 20th century, so all these millions of people can't be wrong!
End of rant ... apologies!
This is glorious.