About this Recording
8.573251 - Cello Duet Arrangements (A Tale of Two Cellos) (Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber, Lenehan)
English 

A Tale of Two Cellos

 

The practice of ‘arranging’ music–the adaptation to one musical medium of music originally composed for another—can be traced back at least six centuries to a time when madrigals, glees and songs for voices were beginning to be thought by their composers to be ‘equally apt for viols’. It has continued to be an accepted musical form ever since. The list of ‘arrangers’ in musical history is legion: a convenient entry point to its vast catalogue might be JS Bach (1685–1750) a composer who cheerfully metamorphosed his own violin concertos into harpsichord concertos and vice-versa (but not his celebrated Chaconne for solo violin which was later to be transcribed for piano—by Brahms, no less, among others—and even for orchestra); nor would Schubert have heard his songs strummed to swooning ladies’ circles by Liszt, nor Chopin his delicate piano pieces played on instruments he certainly did not intend such as the mandolin or the trombone; especially, one hopes Handel never heard a set of quadrilles for dancing based on themes from Messiah. And so the practice has continued right up to the present day, featuring many more equally celebrated names—including a few perhaps unexpected ones such as Arnold Schoenberg and Edward Elgar—on the way.

Many of the pieces heard on this disc began life as vocal duets, a form that lends itself especially well to two cellos in harmony and close communion. Monteverdi provides the earliest music, originally from Book Seven of his madrigals composed in 1619 for two tenor voices and continuo; next comes Purcell’s song from 1691 which began life as a vocal duet, and the opening section of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater of 1736, originally for soprano and contralto voices. A leap over two centuries brings us to two vocal duets by Schumann, from 1849 and 1851 respectively, Saint-Saëns’s ineffable Ave Maria, and a rarity by Anton Rubinstein whose Melody in F for piano was part of a staple diet offered in concert halls, salons, domestic music-rooms and parlours throughout the world for more than a century.

The three Dvořák titles come from his Moravian Duets composed between 1875–7, mostly for soprano and alto. There are four groups of these duets, containing altogether twenty-four songs; their fresh melodic content and melancholy texts did much to make Dvořák popular outside his native Czechoslovakia. There is a pleasing if slight connection between their composer and (Sir) Joseph Barnby, whose part-song Sweet and Low was immensely popular at one time; as well as a composer, though, Barnby was a forward-looking conductor who in 1883 gave the English première of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater in London, opening the way for the first of altogether nine highly successful visits by the Czech composer to the British Isles.

Sergey Rachmaninov and Reynaldo Hahn may conveniently be considered together, if only because of the accident of them being almost exact contemporaries. No greater contrast can be imagined between the melancholy Russian whose place here is on account of one of six choruses for women’s or children’s voices he completed between 1895–96, and the languorous Frenchman whose gentle songs were all the rage in Parisian salons, especially when sung by him to his own piano accompaniment, a cigarette dangling nonchalantly from the corner of his mouth. His best known song is rarely sung in English or even known by an English title, but is instantly recognisable among lovers of French chansons as Si mes vers avaient des ailes.

The delightfully named Ethelbert Woodbridge Nevin was American, born in Pennsylvania with a seemingly natural facility for producing melodious songs and piano pieces that had an instantaneous appeal for listeners. Among them was Narcissus, a piano miniature that became famously popular, though its success was actually outshone by Nevin’s song The Rosary which sold six million copies in thirty years and made him a rich man. Sadly he did not live to enjoy the fruits of Mighty lak’ a rose, composed the year he died. ‘Maying’ is an archaic word for celebrating May Day. Half a century later Dmitry Shostakovich was displaying the equally irresistibly tuneful side of just one of his composing styles by writing music for films such as the satirical drama The Gadfly.

Among English composers represented here is one of her best song writers, Roger Quilter, first with his own version of the old tune Greensleeves (which dates back at least to the fourteenth century and probably earlier than that) and one of his original songs, the aptly named Summer Sunset. A not dissimilar mood inhabits Holst’s evocative Hymn to the Dawn from the third group of Rig Veda pieces of 1910 which he composed to words he had selected and translated himself from the Sanskrit: the third group of four hymns was originally conceived for women’s voices with harp accompaniment. William Lloyd Webber’s two-part song Moon Silver is about a magic boat: ‘I know of a lovely magic boat; on a silver sea she rides afloat, with a cargo of pearl and silver beans to fashion the little children’s dreams’…

Chiquilin de Bachin by the Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla comes with a thoroughly modern-day story attached to it, as related by the composer himself: “Bachin was the name of a restaurant I frequented where, late in the evening, a little boy would regularly come to sell roses at the tables. His angelic, sad, dirty face and obvious poverty made a strong impression on all who saw him. He became known as ‘The kid from Bachin’”. Inspired by the poignancy of the situation, Piazzolla wrote the sad little waltz heard here and dedicated it to all children who are forced to survive on the streets in many cities of the world. To end this collection of arrangements of music spanning the centuries at least as far back as the fourteenth, Estonian Arvo Pärt contributes from his own country a lullaby of artless simplicity that tails off…into sleep.

Lyndon Jenkins

The idea for A Tale of Two Cellos began as we were preparing two virtually unknown two-part songs by John Ireland for our earlier Naxos recording of Delius and Ireland song arrangements [8.572902]. We were enjoying the novel experience of playing some quality music together—because, apart from Vivaldi’s exuberant Double Concerto, the majority of existing music for two cellos could most charitably be described as ‘cello fodder’. We were also becoming increasingly intrigued by the way our different cello ‘voices’ were blending together.

We began to embark on some extensive musical detective work. What other forgotten ‘gems’ for two voices lay nestling beneath the radar? This took us on a musical voyage from sixteenth century Monteverdi to the present day (Arvo Pärt) with some fascinating discoveries along the way…

Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber


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