Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.85
Chanson de Matin
Natalie Clein (cello)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded 28 & 29 May 2007 in Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: October 2007
CD No: EMI 5 01409 2
Duration: 52 minutes
A short-measure disc but the quality outweighs the quantity. Play the six miniatures first to get a feel for Natalie Clein’s lean but burgeoning tone and her heartfelt but not mawkish way with Elgar’s melodies – In Moonlight is extracted from the big concert overture In the South, the ‘canto popolare’ that is assigned there to viola. The balance between cello and orchestra is well-managed and there’s a discreet but telling contribution from the orchestra, not surprising when the conductor is a master Elgarian, Vernon Handley.
Of the other short pieces, La Capricieuse is deftly humorous, the Romance (originally for bassoon) digs deeper, elusive memories suggested, and Salut d’amour has dignity as well as charm. Chanson de Matin enjoys carefree expression, just tinged enough to be retrospective, and Sospiri is deeply eloquent. Julian Milone’s arrangements (the bassoon Romance transcription was presumably pre-existing) are skilfully made and the sequence makes for wide-ranging contrasts.
The Cello Concerto – placed first on the disc – begins defiantly, a very confident opening statement before subsiding to something more confidential. Clein’s assumption of the solo part exudes experience and growth (she has lived with the music for a large part of her young life) and she brings real identification to it, not least a strong sense of stoicism – it is so easy to sentimentalise this music, to pull it around, make it pathetic: Clein, her grainy tone very suitable, avoids this while bringing out music’s quiet passion and emotional overreach within a defined but flexible structure, Handley and the RLPO alive to music’s expressiveness, atmosphere, dynamics and pregnant pauses. They contribute much.
There are more directly emotive or sectional ways of performing this music; these tend to detract from the essential ‘core’ of the music, something Clein and Handley are innately ‘informing’ about – whether it be the articulate scamper of the second movement scherzo, the ‘simplicity’ of the Adagio (a case of ‘less being more’) and a finale that enjoys weight and reverie, a trenchant traversal that seems apt and inevitable given the seriousness of purpose that the performers invest in this music, a gravity that does indeed get to the heart of Elgar’s invention and does so without smothering it.