ELGAR: Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85; Lalo: Cello Concerto in D Minor – Ofra Harnoy, cello/ London Philharmonic Orchestra/ George Pehlivanian (Elgar)/Bournemouth Symphony/ Antonio de Almeida – Sony 19658824342 (8/3/23) (57:30) ****:
Literally rescued from the vaults of the Abbey Road Studios in 2022, the recording of the 1919 Elgar Cello Concerto by Ofra Harnoy from April 1996 resurfaces in its newly mastered format as edited by Ofra Harnoy and Mike Herriott, issued by Ron Searles of Red Maple Sound, Toronto, Ontario. Ofra Harnoy models her performance after the 1965 recording by Jacqueline DuPré, as influenced by her own teacher, William Pleeth.
Elgar’s last major orchestral work, the E Minor Concerto, came about during a time of great personal crisis for the composer, whose wife Alice “seemed to fading away before one’s very eyes.” The initial premiere of the work proved a dismal affair, having been under-rehearsed by conductor Albert Coates and despite adequate preparation by cellist Felix Salmond. The Concerto reveals a structure in two pairs of movements, opening with Harnoy’s throaty recitative, Adagio, in the manner of her predecessors Casals and DuPré. The elegiac, half-step theme from the violas proceeds, Moderato, inspiring Harnoy to respond in lushly melancholy terms. The music proceeds in balanced energies, lyrically bucolic.
The second movement, Lento – Allegro molto presents a scurrying scherzo into which the cello at first hesitates to enter. But once engaged, the collaboration becomes hearty and fulsome, employing a bravura range of dragonfly effects for Harnoy’s instrument. The heart of the piece, the Adagio, finds Harnoy amidst a reduced ensemble, allowing her a passionate utterance that she maintains for all but one measure. The last, expansive movement consists of four designated tempo changes, opening again with a cello recitative. The tone of the music projects a stoically martial melancholy, occasionally enlivened by periods of energized spirit. The subdued air of dark reflection succumbs to kind of despair when an Adagio phrase reappears and then poignantly oppresses the remainder of the score. At the coda, Harnoy injects the grinding, opening phrase to usher conductor Pehlivanian’s responsive LPO to its potent conclusion.
The recording of Édouard Lalo’s 1876 Cello Concerto in D Minor dates from 11-12 May 1995, from Wessex Hall, Poole Arts Centre, Dorset, Great Britain. The French conductor Antonio De Almeida (1928-1997) joins Harnoy in this often Iberian-flavored, dramatic work which shares themes with Pablo de Sarasate. Each of Lalo’s movements lies in three parts, opening with a Prelude. Lento – Allegro maestoso that Almeida takes quite marcato, injecting virile sweep into the martial air. The orchestra punctuates Harnoy’s fluid line with sharp interjections before allowing her to dominate the ensuing Allegro moderato. The easy lyricism Harnoy brings to the ensuing drama resonates with persuasive fluency. Even her unremitting 16th notes emerge with a facility that allots to them an arioso character. The pungency of the Bournemouth brass and wind sections adds much to the volatility of this first movement.
The middle movement, marked Intermezzo. Andantino con moto – Allegro Presto, combines a slow movement and a scherzo. The ease of transition in Harnoy’s tempo shifts and changes of registration becomes a warrant to purchase this recording. The little Spanish dance assumes a bucolic and melancholy hue before the Presto impulse returns. Almeida’s string forces and Harnoy end the movement, pizzicato. The slow Andante that opens the last movement once more beckons to Sarasate, before the Rondo (Allegro vivace) enters with its invitation – the tune based on the D Major scale – to Harnoy’s soaring vocal line. Lalo intersperses the otherwise rocking or galloping procession with horn calls and fanfares that add a touch of dramatic pageantry to the occasion. As a display piece, the Lalo does full justice to its dedicatee Adolphe Fischer and its present acolyte, Ofra Harnoy.
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