Lionel Sainsbury's Violin Concerto caused something of a sensation when it was issued by Dutton in 2010 and this 'Cello Concerto dating from 1999, if not quite as fine, is also enormously attractive and rewarding. Sainsbury's style is highly melodic and tonal, very much in the tradition of Walton and Barber. Syncopated rhythms are a particular feature. What makes this concerto so impressive is the way in which it grows organically. Structural divisions are blurred and the music has a wonderful lyrical impulse. There is no trace of academicism even though every phrase derives from what has gone before, not only within movements but between them. You will enjoy this concerto even at a first hearing and will want to return to it often.
The first movement begins in D minor with a strongly syncopated main theme. This movement nods towards sonata form, including a central "development" section which makes great play of an expressive motif clearly derived from earlier material.
After a short introduction derived from material from the first movement, the oboe sings the slow movement's main theme. There are two other important ideas, a rocking theme which is to flower later in the movement and a fine tune first heard in the orchestra at 3 mins 30 secs. However, as in the first movement, what impresses most is the music's inevitability and avoidance of obvious structural signposts.
As in the Violin Concerto, the finale begins with a long tutti introducing the movement's main melodies, one after the other. After a cadenza the soloist restates them and then comes a surprise. Sainsbury introduces a tune (at 6 mins 12 secs) clearly derived, as always, from earlier material but not well integrated, I feel, into the surrounding music. It's undeniably catchy but I did wonder if it was worthy of the work. You may feel differently. A cadenza for the soloist quotes it and the rest of the movement is built on this tune and the movement's main theme. If the finale is not quite as fine as the other movements, then, it certainly does not let down a really splendid concerto which I urge you to hear. Astonishingly, this recording represents its first performance.
John Foulds' concerto dates from 1908-1909. If Sainsbury's concerto impresses by its fluid construction, the same cannot be said of Foulds' work. In fact, the long-winded first movement stops and starts and sometimes even stagnates as the soloist becomes becalmed in arpeggios. The movement is, however, attractive melodically if in a rather conventional way.
The other movements are more successful. The ternary slow movement has a memorable, if again rather conventional, main theme. The central section is built on the concerto's strongest idea. It is first stated by the orchestra and, thanks to Raphael Wallfisch's cadenza, will return towards the end of the concerto. A statement of the concerto's pizzicato motto theme reintroduces the opening tune but Foulds now incorporates within it elements of the central section's melody.
The rondo finale makes considerably more demands on the soloist's technique. It is built on a string of strong ideas but again it is rather crudely constructed and Foulds is not always sure what to do with his material. Towards the end, the soloist is given an opportunity for a cadenza. All in all, this concerto, though not unattractive melodically, is a somewhat slipshod work and, frankly, you couldn't mistake Foulds for a great composer on the evidence of this music.
Both pieces are splendidly performed and recorded here. For the sake of Sainsbury's concerto, then, this disc is an essential purchase.
Probably you've never heard of composer Lionel Sainsbury? I did'nt. He didn't compose many works for orchestra - there's a wonderful violin concerto available on Dutton too - but he's still young and I only can encourage him to compose more. His music is so romantic and beautiful it even sounds like Dvorak has returned! Yes, it's easy on the ear and to understand, but who cares considering there're not so many cello concertos to be played in concert halls if you compare this with piano concertos. Never heard of John Foulds? Pity on you, serious classical music guys and girls know him. There're some wonderful orchestral and vocal music CD's to be had from Amazon and the like. I really hope you'd buy some of his music. It's tonal and modern when placed in it's properly understanded time line. This cello concerto too deserves to be heard very often. It's as good and great as the Finzi, or the Walton, or any other much played cello concerto. Who said there're no fine `British' cello concertos except Walton do have to look at this pair. Wonderful! And recording, presentation, interpretation etc. are at the normal high Dutton standard! Bravo!