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JoAnn Falletta & the Ulster Orchestra record music by Ernest John Moeran

February 25, 2012

Ulster Orchestra with Joann Falletta

On February 5 and 6, 2012, the Ulster Orchestra recorded a CD of works by one of the greatest English composers of the 20th century, Ernest John Moeran, in the Ulster Hall in Belfast. The son of an Irish clergyman, Moeran was born in Isleworth, Middlesex, and spent his early impressionable years on the Norfolk coast. That landscape was a particularly vivid inspiration to him, and his works are permeated with the spirit of the folk songs he loved and collected. Moeran spent the latter part of his life in the wilds of rural Ireland, and continued his folksong explorations there, often in the pubs of Kerry. In fact, he was so taken with Ireland that in his mature life he claimed that he could only write music there.

The CD, conducted by Ulster Orchestra principal conductor JoAnn Falletta, brings together four lesser known pieces that are all inspired by the beauty of the scenery of Norfolk and County Kerry. The duality of his Anglo-Irish background created music of fascinating complexity and nuance, and the works are infused with the perfume of the physical beauty of the countryside and the charm of indigenous folk music.

The Naxos CD will present the first recording of the original version of Lonely Waters, and exquisite tone poem based on a fragment of a song frequently heard in the inns of Moeran’s boyhood Norfolk. A kind of folksong rhapsody, the piece ends with a haunting voice intoning the words of the song:

So I’ll go down to some lonely waters
Go down where no one can find me
Where the pretty little small birds do change their voices
And every moment blow blustering wild.

Although Moeran provided an alternative ending for English Horn, the Ulster Orchestra has used the composer’s preferred ending—beautifully sung by soprano Rebekah Coffey—creating an atmosphere of bleak and lonely expanse colored by birdsong.

Also included on the CD is Moeran’s tribute to the music of sixteenth-century composer Thomas Whythorne, the composer of the earliest book of secular songs printed in England. Moeran based the lilting Whythorne’s Shadow on Whythorne’s part-song “As thy Shadow Itself Apply’th”, in a charming “handshake across the centuries”. Another little-known gem is his Serenade. This lighthearted work—brilliantly orchestrated—swings from stately dances to folk songs to rhapsodic intermezzos and poetic interludes in a piece marked by buoyant good spirits, rhythmic syncopation and harmonic color.

The heart of this new Naxos CD is Moeran’s stunning and poignant Cello Concerto. This was the composer’s last large-scale work and is tinged with an autumnal melancholy and valedictory splendor reminiscent of the Elgar Cello Concerto. Written for the woman with whom he had fallen in love, the piece is an astonishingly touching paean for the cello, which is allowed to sing with a voice of gentle sorrow and Irish charm. Inspired by the music of Beethoven, Moeran’s Cello Concerto is the centrepiece of a CD of remarkable music, and is gorgeously played by young cellist Guy Johnston (whose grandfather, incidentally, served as lead clarinetist of the Ulster Orchestra in the 1970s).

Tim Handley, producer, recorded the CD with his customary and always deeply appreciated unerring ear and impeccable sense of line.

Ulster Orchestra Biography & Discography

JoAnn Falletta Biography & Discography

Ernest John Moeran Biography & Discography


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