November 26, 2021
Gabriel Schwabe/ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Ward (Naxos)A performance full of finely realised detail and lacking in bombast ensures these two great and contrasting British cello concertos shine
Elgar and Bridge/Schwabe: Cello Concertos review – hugely impressive and refreshingly straightforward
Two great British cello concertos, one extremely well known, the other inexplicably neglected, and both composed in response to the horrors of the first world war are featured here. For Elgar, his 1919 concerto proved to be his last significant work, while Frank Bridge’s “concerto elegiaco”, Oration, completed in 1930, was one of a series of pieces composed in the last two decades of his life – which also included his piano sonata, last two string quartets and the orchestral rhapsody Enter Spring – in which he went far beyond the Edwardian cosiness of his early works into an expressive world clearly linked to European modernism, and to the music of Alban Berg especially.
If Elgar’s concerto looks back wistfully to a late-Romantic world that war had destroyed, Oration looks forward, though without offering much hope that things are likely to get better. Bridge conceived it as a protest against the futility of war, a funeral address given by the solo cello with an acerbic orchestral commentary. The six sections of the impassioned single movement, 30 minutes long, still fulfil all the functions of a traditional concerto, including a substantial cadenza, and the music’s absolute refusal to find any glory in the carnage of war perhaps influenced Bridge’s pupil Benjamin Britten when he came to compose his Sinfonia da Requiem in 1939, just three years after the delayed premiere of Oration.
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