Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Fine music in an honourable British tradition

When I first listened to Raphael Wallfisch playing the Gerald Finzi Cello Concerto, in this two-CD re-issue by Chandos (to be released in North American on May 27, 2016), I thought to myself that it was amazing, probably the greatest British Cello Concerto after the Elgar. Then I came across a link to this great short film on Wallfisch's website:

Wallfisch makes a good case, though I'm still inclined to consider his claim just a trifle hyperbolic. These are all fabulous recordings, from the mid-1980s to early-1990s but still sounding very good. I recently listened to Wallfisch's Bax Concerto when I reviewed the new Lionel Handy disc on Lyrita in March, and thought it very fine. The other works on this disc are less familiar, but they all owe a debt to Elgar's Cello Concerto of 1919. All except the bonus piece on the disc: the Stanford 3rd Rhapsody in the series of six he wrote before WWI. The Rhapsodies are all marvellous works, quoting Irish folk songs in a Brahms accent.

The Bliss Concerto is, for a work written in 1970, easy on the ears. The composer said about it, "There are no problems for the listener – only for the soloist." Though it's a bit lighter in tone than some of the other works here, it's tightly, symphonically, constructed. Rostropovich was right when he convinced Bliss to change its name from Concertino to Concerto. The Moeran Cello Concerto, from 1945, is perhaps closest to the Elgar model, with lovely long melodies and a keynote of nostalgia and sadness.

Wallfisch has the measure of all of this music, and this album is a perfect way to collect it, in spite of other strong performances on disc by such cellists as Lionel Handy, Yo Yo Ma, Guy Johnstone and Peers Coetmore (who was Moeran's wife). Wallfisch has strong support from Liverpool, London, Bournemouth and Belfast orchestras, and the low price makes this album a must-buy.

Here is the Stanford 3rd Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra, from the 1990 Chandos album with Raphael Wallfisch and Vernon Handley conducting the Ulster Orchestra:

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