The Romantic Cello

CD 12 of 24

The Cello Concertos of Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904) and Edward Elgar (1857 – 1934) are the two greatest cello concertos in the repertoire. Besides the obvious similarities, they are coupled on this disc to showcase their melodic inventiveness. The tunes, surrounded by rich orchestration, tumble out from the cello, searing their way into your memory.

Both works are from relatively late in the composers’ careers; Dvořák’s concerto premièring in 1894, Elgar’s in 1919. Johannes Brahms, who did not hear Dvořák’s work until the last year of his life, stated “had I known that such a violoncello concerto as that could be written, I could have tried to compose one myself!” This from the man who wrote that great first symphony on CD 8 and who did compose a Double Concerto for Violin and Cello but could find no way to writing a concerto for cello alone.

Dvořák’s work has many personal elements woven into it. The piece was written at the request of his friend, the Professor of Cello at the Prague University, Hanuš Wihan, who also received its dedication. The second movement quotes from his song “Leave me Alone”, from 1887, and, just to dish a little nineteenth-century dirt, what makes this so intriguing is that this song was the favourite of his sister-in-law, Josefina, whom some suspect was the sister Dvořák really loved, instead of Anna, his wife. After Dvořák completed the concerto, Josefina died. Dvořák returned to the score and added some music to the third movement. You can imagine this piece ending at the 9:30 mark (Track 3) but this very serene music continues with the addition of Josefina’s favorite song heard again from 10:30 to 10.40.

Sir Edward Elgar (knighted in 1904), is the first major English composer we have encountered since Henry Purcell on CD 4. Near the end of the First World War Elgar and his wife Alice moved to a remote area of Sussex. In 1918 Elgar had a case of tonsillitis that required surgery, and it was during his recovery that the opening melody of the concerto was conceived. Like the Beethoven concerto on CD 6, Elgar’s concerto commences with the cello in a dramatic solo statement, cello and orchestra finally interacting, leading to what is one the greatest musical “ascents” ever composed, heard at 2:13! Following this is a grand statement of the lilting melody in the orchestra.   

In contrast to the positive reception Dvořák received for his concerto, the response awaiting Elgar would be disastrous! Contemporary critic Ernest Newman wrote “never, in all probability, has an orchestra made so a lamentable exhibition of itself. The work itself is lovely stuff”. The first performance was doubly unfortunate as it was the last première of a major work by Elgar that his wife was to attend. With Alice’s death it seemed that Elgar’s font of creativity died as well. He was not to complete any major works for the rest of his life.


Recommended Tracks

Recommended Tracks

Antonín Dvorák (1841 - 1904):
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104 | 1. Allegro
Szell · Wallenstein · Fournier · Berliner Philharmoniker
Antonín Dvorák (1841 - 1904):
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104 | 2. Adagio ma non troppo
Szell · Wallenstein · Fournier · Berliner Philharmoniker
Sir Edward Elgar (1857 - 1934):
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.85 | 1. Adagio - Moderato
Szell · Wallenstein · Fournier · Berliner Philharmoniker


(Please find our recommended audio excerpts for this CD on the bottom of the "Overview" page.)

      1. Antonín Dvorák (1841 - 1904)
        Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104
        1. 1.
          1. Allegro
        2. 2.
          2. Adagio ma non troppo
        3. 3.
          3. Finale (Allegro moderato)
          Pierre Fournier, Berliner Philharmoniker, George Szell
      2. Sir Edward Elgar (1857 - 1934)
        Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.85
        1. 4.
          1. Adagio - Moderato
        2. 5.
          2. Lento - Allegro molto
        3. 6.
          3. Adagio
        4. 7.
          4. Allegro
          Pierre Fournier, Berliner Philharmoniker, Alfred Wallenstein
    Playing Time 01:04:31