Few people think of Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Walton as composers of chamber music; nevertheless, the small number of works of this classification which they published is highly characteristic, personal and significant.
Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85, his last notable work, is a cornerstone of the solo cello repertoire. Elgar composed it in the aftermath of the First World War, by which time his music had gone out of fashion with the concert-going public.
The Violin Concerto of William Walton was written in 1938–39 and reorchestrated in 1943. The concerto, about a half-hour in length, is scored for violin solo and standard orchestra (the revision pared down the percussion section from the original).
Sir Edward Elgar’s sublime Cello Concerto receives an impassioned new performance from Steven Isserlis, the Philharmonia Orchestra and Paavo Järvi. With additional works by Sir William Walton and Gustav Holst, as well as a miniature suite for solo cello by Imogen Holst, this is unquestionably one of the year’s most eagerly awaited releases.
Hyperion has reissued on its midpriced Helios label this fine program of English works for string quartet, recorded in 1994. The composers, born approximately 20 years apart in the order given in the headnote, offer an insight into the evolutionary trends in British music before, throughout, and after the 20th century’s two Great Wars.
Although conceived by utterly divergent characters in lands and times that engender few similarities these days, the cello concertos by Elgar and Myaskovsky make a fascinating coupling due not only to the disparate nature of the composers’ lives and situations, but also, curiously, to the common ground they tread. Both men were in their early sixties when writing what was their only concertante work for the instrument, and the prevailing mood of both concertos is one of aristocratic wistfulness married to a mastery of form and rhetoric. They strike the listener almost as elegies, predominantly ruminant and rarely displaying the cut-and-thrust heroics that are so often an integral part of the concerto genre.
Medieval Baebes and other far greater shocks to the bourgeoisie have come along. Wild adventures placed under the rubric of performances of Vivaldi's Four Seasons are commonplace. Yet Nigel Kennedy continues to roost atop the classical sales charts in Europe, and even to command a decent following in the U.S. despite a low American tolerance for British eccentricity. How does he do it? He has kept reinventing himself successfully. Perhaps he's the classical world's version of Madonna: he's possessed of both unerring commercial instincts and with enough of a sense of style to be able to dress them up as forms of rebellion. Inner Thoughts is a collection of slow movements – inner movements of famous concertos from Bach and Vivaldi to Brahms, Bruch, and Elgar. Actually, the only composer falling into the middle of that large chronological gap is Mendelssohn; Kennedy apparently needs a sort of otherworldly serenity for this project, which Baroque and post-Romantic slow movements may have, but Mozart does not. At any rate, this is no radical idea; it's a softball straight up the middle.