About this Recording
8.223718 - English Cello Sonatas

Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986)

Edmund Rubbra (1901 - 1986)

Sonata in G Minor, Op. 60


E. J. Moeran (1894 - 1950)

Sonata in A Minor


John Ireland (1879 - 1962)

Sonata in G Minor



The cello sonatas of Ireland, Moeran and Rubbra represent a significant period in the twentieth century British musical renaissance. All three composers share a facility in vocal writing and therefore in the lyrical treatment of instruments and made a significant enough addition to chamber music repertoire, although their reputations in general have remained limited to their own countries, England, and, in the case of Moeran, also Ireland.


Edmund Rubbra's Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 60, was written in 1946 and is in many ways characteristic of his mature work. Rubbra was born in Northampton in 1901, had piano lessons from his mother and acquired an early admiration for Debussy and Cyril Scott, the latter to be his teacher. After leaving school in 1915 he took employment as a railway-clerk, but in 1920, when he was nineteen, he won a composition scholarship to Reading University and the following year to the Royal College of Music in London. Here he became a composition pupil of Gustav Hoist, with lessons in harmony and counterpoint from the distinguished contrapuntalist R.O. Morris. Work as a free-lance musician and war-time collaboration with the violinist Erich Gruenberg and cellist William Pleeth in a trio was followed in 1947 by a period of some twenty years lecturing at Oxford University. His reputation as a composer had been established in the first of his eleven symphonies in 1937 and he was seen by contemporaries as one of the leading English composers of his time, independent in musical language and not to be identified with the pastoralism of Vaughan Williams or HoIst. The Cello Sonata, in its three movements, treats the often plangent cello part vocally, not least in the first movement, with its characteristic contrapuntal activity and mounting excitement, subsiding into final tranquillity. The second movement is one of dramatic activity, followed by a final Adagio of initial serenity, constructed from the simplest thematic material, moving inexorably to its final triumphant climax.


E. J. Moeran belongs to a slightly earlier generation. He was born in 1894 into a family of Anglo-Irish origin and was sent to school at Uppingham, where Joachim was an occasional visitor. His studies at the Royal College of Music were interrupted by the war, in which he was seriously wounded, but resumed under John Ireland after a brief period of work as a schoolmaster at Uppingham. Ireland was a strong influence on his composition, as was Delius and, it might be supposed, his friend Peter Warlock. Other influences may be found in the landscape of his native Norfolk and in that of the country of his forebears, Ireland, where he died in 1950. In 1945 he married the cellist Peers Coetmore, for whom he wrote his Cello Concerto, followed in 1947 by his Cello Sonata and in the following year a Prelude for cello and piano. The three- movement sonata is rhetorical in its use of the cello. The dark-hued first movement is followed by a heart-felt elegiac Adagio, its mood shattered by the outburst that initiates the closing Allegro, with its fragmentary suggestions of a folk-music origin and tensely dramatic climax, followed by a chordal passage for the cello and a final pastoral rhapsody.


John Ireland, born in Cheshire in 1879, was a pupil of Stanford at the Royal College of Music and thereafter worked for many years as an organist and choirmaster and as a teacher of composition at the Royal College, where his pupils included a reluctant Brit ten, who owed rather more to his earlier teacher Frank Bridge. His earliest compositions date from the last years of the nineteenth century and his latest significant work from 1947. He died in 1962.


Of particular importance, among his chamber music, is the Violin Sonata No.2, completed in 1917. It was followed in 1923 by the Cello Sonata, written for Beatrice Harrison. Tautly constructed, the sonata derives its thematic material, particularly in the outer movements, from the opening bars of the cello part. The two instruments, cello and piano, are perfectly reconciled, the former often taking a histrionic role. The rhetoric of the first movement leads to a gently meditative Poco largamente, its tranquil air abruptly broken by the final Con moto e marcato.

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