About this Recording
8.573034 - MOERAN, E.J.: Cello Concerto / Serenade / Lonely Waters / Whythorne's Shadow (Johnston, Ulster Orchestra, Falletta)

Ernest John Moeran (1894–1950)
Cello Concerto • Serenade • Lonely Waters • Whythorne’s Shadow


Of Anglo-Irish descent, Ernest John Moeran was brought up in Norfolk and the scenery and folk-music of Ireland and Norfolk were a lasting influence on him. Studies at the Royal College of Music were interrupted by the 1914–1918 War, in which he served on the Western Front, sustaining serious head injuries that affected him physically and mentally for the rest of his life. After the war he resumed a passion for collecting folk-songs and began to study privately with the composer John Ireland. Also at this time, he developed a close friendship with Philip Heseltine, who wrote music under the name of Peter Warlock. Both men were strongly attracted to Delius’s compositions, which, together with those of Bax and Sibelius, had a significant impact on Moeran’s own output.

As a composer Moeran was a late developer. He tackled most of traditional musical forms with the notable exceptions of opera and cantata but, despite the early promise of such works as the central Elegy from his three piano pieces entitled Fancies (1922), he did not achieve widespread critical and public success until the late 1930s with his Symphony in G minor (Naxos 8.555837). In the wake of this achievement, he produced a series of major pieces, including the Violin Concerto, the Cello Concerto, the Sinfonietta and the Cello Sonata. In 1945 he married the Irish cellist Peers Coetmore. Their union was unsuccessful, exacerbated by his constant drinking and her enforced absences due to extensive touring. Moeran’s final years, spent in Ireland, were dogged by ill-health. On a stormy night in December 1950, a witness saw him fall from the pier at Kenmare, and, on his recovery from the water, he was found to be dead, apparently from a cerebral haemorrhage following a heart attack.

Moeran’s individuality as a composer grew throughout his creative life and in the Cello Concerto of 1945 his eclectic influences are successfully subsumed within an authentic personal voice. Peers Coetmore gave the work’s first performance with the Orchestra of Radio Eire conducted by Michael Bowles at the Capitol Theatre, Dublin, on 25 November 1945.

In the first movement (Moderato), the cello sings an almost continuous, spontaneous-sounding melody. After a brief introductory orchestral gesture, the soloist enters with a hushed and extensive theme, driven by an insistent rhythmic figure. As in several other Moeran works, including the Symphony in G minor and the Violin Concerto, the opening phrase is central to the succeeding material. The long-delayed second idea, more compact and relaxed, is lightly scored for cello, with delicate woodwind decoration. Framed by baleful fanfares, the often stormy development section refreshes and energises the movement, offering new variations on its principal theme. In the closing section, Moeran revisits the secondary idea first, whilst the movement’s main melody makes a delayed return in a final, pared down version.

The second movement is an imposing, meditative Adagio. A brief, anguished orchestral introduction precedes the nostalgic and profoundly felt main melody, a song without words for cello accompanied by hymn-like muted strings. At the end of the movement, a short solo cadenza avoids virtuosity for its own sake, playing more of a structural role, as Moeran deftly transforms the main theme of the Adagio into what will be the principal idea of the ensuing Rondo.

A bracing Allegretto deciso alla marcia begins the finale, a protean movement that incorporates various contrasting, lyrical passages within its tightly controlled structure, including, towards the end, a deeply expressive section where the main theme is transfigured into a passionate love-song. The work concludes briskly with a fast jig. All of the finale’s elements are alive with the spirit of Irish folkmusic.

Thanks to the transparency and restraint of his orchestration, Moeran’s concerto is a rare example in the genre where the soloist can be clearly heard throughout. It may be regarded as one of the most successful of twentieth-century cello concertos, undeserving of its relative neglect in the concert hall.

Serenade in G was completed in 1948 and first performed on 2 September of that year by the London Symphony Orchestra under Basil Cameron at a Promenade Concert in the Royal Albert Hall. On that occasion eight movements were played. When the piece was being considered for publication, however, it was thought to be too long. The Intermezzo and Forlana were therefore excised and the Serenade was subsequently played in a six-movement form until a new edition of the score, published in 1996, restored the two movements to the places Moeran intended for them. The inclusion of the Intermezzo and Forlana movements significantly alters the character of the suite, deepening and intensifying what would otherwise have been an example of purely light music.

The cod-Elizabethan dance music of the Prologue is redolent of Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite of 1925, a set of dances in the renaissance style. Moeran’s lyrical gifts are evident in the beautiful Air, scored for muted strings with an underlying fervour which is made explicit when the principal theme is given out on the cellos, this time unmuted. Unsuspected dark emotional regions are opened up by the central episode of the following Intermezzo. With its fleet-footed, stepwise movement, the Galop is reminiscent of the song Maltworms, on which Moeran and Warlock collaborated. Scored for strings, woodwind and horn and launched by the oboe’s haunting folk-like theme, the Minuet is written in the composer’s most nostalgic vein. The spirit of Warlock’s Capriol Suite is revisited in the Rigadoon which has the manner of a vigorous folk-dance. The atmospheric Forlana adds weight and depth to this agreeable collection of vignettes and builds to a powerful emotional climax. In the brief Epilogue, a tiny fanfare heralds the return of music from the Prologue.

Although some of the Serenade’s movements have a convoluted history—the Minuet and Rigadoon originally belonged to a 1932 four-movement orchestral suite entitled Farrago which the composer subsequently withdrew—the piece works convincingly as a suite. Written primarily to entertain, it is typically well-crafted.

Though published together in 1935 as Two Pieces for small orchestra, Lonely Waters and Whythorne’s Shadow are very different in character and instrumentation. In their own respective ways, these two short pieces are entirely representative, fine examples of Moeran’s art.

Probably completed in 1931, Lonely Waters had its première on 22 January 1932 at The Queen’s Hall, conducted by Anthony Bernard. Dedicated to Vaughan Williams, this is one of the first of Moeran’s works to speak with his distinctive musical voice. It takes the form of a mini-orchestral rhapsody that weaves three measured and nostalgic variations around a folk-song from East Norfolk. The score’s modest forces are supplemented by a suspended cymbal that supplies one precisely timed and very effective crash at the work’s emotional peak. In the score’s final page, a folk-singer, positioned at the back of the orchestra, describes in melancholy tones, the lonely waters of the work’s title:

So Iʼll go down to some lonely waters,
Go down where no one they shall me find,
Where the pretty little small birds do change their voices,
And every moment blow blustering wild.

Moeran wrote an alternative, purely orchestral, ending (not used in this recording) in which the singer’s eloquent melody is voiced by a keening cor anglais.

Whythorne’s Shadow derives from the madrigal As thy shadow itself apply’th by the Elizabethan composer Thomas Whythorne. Philip Heseltine, who rediscovered Whythorne’s music, published the madrigal in 1927 and three years later, just after Heseltine’s death, Moeran used the tune as the basis for this orchestral fantasy, probably intended as a tribute to his friend. Even more sparingly scored than Lonely Waters, Whythorne’s Shadow requires strings and one each of flute, oboe, clarinet and horn. The theme begins in the style of Whythorne’s own time but gradually assumes Moeran’s more intricate musical language.

Paul Conway

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