About this Recording
8.554469 - LALO: Cello Concerto in D Minor / Cello Sonata

Edouard Lalo (1823-1892)
Cello Concerto; Sonata for cello & piano; Chants russes

Of remote Spanish ancestry, Edouard Lalo was born in 1823 in Lille, a part of France in which his forebears had settled some 250 years earlier. As a boy he studied the violin and the cello at Lille Conservatory, but his father, a former soldier in a family of continuing military traditions, prudently objected to a musical career for his son. Denied further parental support, Lalo moved to Paris where, in 1839, he entered the violin class of Habeneck, while studying composition privately with the pianist Julius Schulhoff and then with J.E. Crèvecœur. He went on to earn his living first as a teacher and as a violinist and in 1855 joined with the violinist Jules Armingaud and cellist Léon Jacquard in the establishment of a quartet under Armingaud's leadership. The Armingaud Quartet, in which Lalo at first played the viola, won a considerable reputation for itself, not least for its performances of Beethoven's quartets, which had at that time not been widely heard, and for a repertoire that ranged from Haydn and Mozart to Schumann and Mendelssohn. Lalo's marriage in 1865 to a singer brought the composition of songs and the following year an unsuccessful attempt at opera, Fiesque, entered for a competition in which it failed to win a prize, but the source of the later orchestral Divertissemeut, which uses the ballet music from the opera.

It was in the 1870s that Lalo began to come into his own as a composer, materially assisted by the Société Nationale de Musique, established under the leadership of Camille Saint-Saëns and the singing teacher Romain Bussine in the aftermath of the French defeat and capitulation at Sedan in 1871. Lalo had destroyed the two symphonies he had written earlier in his career, but the performance of his Violin Concerto, Opus 20, and the Symphonie espagnole by Pablo Sarasate, who had commissioned the work, won him increasing recognition. A Cello Concerto followed in 1877 and in 1879 the violinist Martin Marsick, a pupil of Joachim, gave the first performance of the Concerto russe, Opus 29. The following decade brought Lalo's only surviving Symphony and his Piano Concerto in F minor. Turning his attention once more to the theatre, he won appreciation from some for his ballet Namouna, at least in the concert hall, with music that was much admired by the young Debussy, who had caused some disturbance at the Opéra by his display of enthusiasm, approval that persuaded the subscribers to secure the future banning of Conservatoire composition students from the Conservatoire box. Namouna, centering on the slave-girl of the title, lost in a wager by her master, was given only fifteen performances at the Opéra, where it was staged in 1882 and Lalo was able to make use of some of the score again in his Symphony. He enjoyed final theatrical triumph, however, with his opera Le roi d'Ys, staged at the Opéra-Comique in 1888. Based on a Breton legend, with a principal mezzo-soprano rôle originally designed for the composer's wife, the opera makes use of Breton folk-songs as an integral part of a particularly French work. His reputation as a composer now secure, Lalo had only a few years to live. In 1891 he suffered a heart-attack and died in April 1892, leaving unfinished a new opera, La jacquerie, to be completed by Arthur Cocquard and mounted in Monte Carlo in 1895.

As a composer, whether of orchestral or chamber music, Lalo has a strong command of structure. His orchestration is often colourful, while his harmonic vocabulary can be dramatic in its choice of chord. His early contribution to chamber music repertoire, primarily in the 1850s, but with a return to these forms in the 1880s, is matched by the significant orchestral compositions of the 1870s, with the colourful use of Spanish elements in the Symphonie espagnole, Russian themes in the second and fourth movement of the Concerto russe and Norwegian material in his Rapsodie norvégienne of 1879. His compositional techniques have been compared to those of German composers of the time and his use of relatively exotic material to the current practices of the Russian nationalists. He remains, however, a distinctive voice in French music of the second half of the nineteenth century.

The Cello Concerto starts with a slow and impressive introduction, interrupted by passages for the soloist, who then, in the following Allegro maestoso, launches into the principal subject of the movement, contrasted with the major key of the more lyrical secondary theme. Elements of the introduction are to return throughout, but specifically in the course of the central development. The abridged recapitulation brings back the two subjects, followed by a coda of some brilliance, capped by ominous reference to the slow introduction. The Intermezzo combines slow movement and scherzo, with the opening G minor Andantino con moto breaking into a G major Allegro-­Presto, a process that is repeated. There is a Spanish touch in the Introduction of the last movement and this continues intermittently in the lively thematic material that follows, present in both melody and in jaunty rhythmic elements.

Lalo's Cello Sonata was written in 1856, at a time when he was preoccupied as a performer and as a composer with chamber music. The sonata opens dramatically, with a secondary theme providing the necessary contrast of key and mood to the threat implicit in the motif with which the sonata had begun. There is a gentle lyricism and serenity in the second movement. This is dispelled at once by the forthright vigour of the final Allegro, interrupted by a hesitant passage, before the movement resumes its original impetus and proceeds to its rhetorical conclusion.

The Chants russes is a transcription for cello and piano of the second movement of Lalo's Concerto russe. The movement first offers the Russian theme in conjunction with the solemn chords of the piano, before going forward to a more impassioned central section.

Keith Anderson

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