Serenade in G [original version]
Two Pieces for small orchestra – Lonely Waters; Whythorne’s Shadow [sic]
Guy Johnston (cello)
Rebekah Coffey (soprano)
Recorded 5 & 6 February 2012 in Ulster Hall, Belfast, UK
CD No: NAXOS 8.573034 Duration: 65 minutes Reviewed: December 2013
JoAnn Falletta conducts E. J. Moeran with Guy Johnston and Rebekah Coffey [Ulster Orchestra; Naxos]
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Whether in Buffalo, Ulster or Virginia, her permanent centres of excellence, JoAnn Falletta has been enterprising in choosing a wide range of interesting repertoire. With the Ulster Orchestra, of which Falletta has been Principal Conductor since May 2011, they first came together in terms of recording with a Naxos disc of Gustav Holst’s music (review-link below). Now, here is an equally impressive release of pieces by Ernest John Moeran.
Moeran (1894-1950), usually referred to by his initials, hailed from Norfolk and was of Irish descent. His 30-minute Cello Concerto (1945), written for Peers Coetmore (1905-76), her first name incorrectly given as “Piers” in the booklet note – composer and cellist married in this very year and she recorded the Concerto for Lyrita with Boult conducting – is a pleasurable piece. The first movement opens in pastoral style and with deep feeling, the cello intensely lyrical, maybe a love-letter from Moeran to his intended, which is then contrasted with more ebullient material. It’s the slower stuff that really gets to one’s heart though, and which is developed in a slow movement of profound contemplation that is also imbued with an Irish tinge, and is most sensitively played by Guy Johnston, who clearly believes in the score, with Falletta and the Ulster Orchestra weaving a refined yet significant accompaniment. The mid-point cadenza is engagingly rhapsodic on its own terms and leads nicely to the swing and energy – and further reverie – of the finale. This may not be ‘great music’, but it is sincere, consummately crafted and very likeable, Johnston a master of the solo part and who enjoys fraternity with his orchestral partners.
The Serenade in G is here played in its original version of 1948. Two of its eight movements were subsequently discarded and are now restored in a new edition of the work. Yet the whole suite totals a mere 23 minutes. Taking his inspiration from the Elizabethan era (the first one) Moeran delights his listeners with some beguiling dance music, melodies and colourful orchestration, deftly moving along and sometimes creating attractive tensions, during the third-movement ‘Intermezzo’ for example, and not being short of wit either. This is quality light music that goes beyond itself and with much to admire and enjoy.
The Two Pieces (1931) that conclude the disc include the haunting Lonely Waters, dedicated to Vaughan Williams who also knew a thing or two about using Norfolk folk-tunes. This is beautiful and soul-stirring music, poetic and atmospheric, Moeran’s trump card being the introduction of a singer for just four descriptive lines towards the end. Uneconomic but effective! Rebekah Coffey brings a nice burr to her rendition. For Whythorne’s Shadow (or maybe it’s Wythorne? – Naxos’s annotation and booklet note offer both spellings), we return to Elizabethan times for a buoyant and courtly offering.
The performances are splendid in their appreciation and affection for Moeran’s music and the recording is excellent. Well worth a punt!