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Ernest John Moeran (1894-1950)
Cello Concerto (1945) [30:30]
Cello Sonata (1948) [25:11]
Prelude for cello and piano (1944) [4:40]
(cello); Eric Parkin (piano)
Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. February 1969, Walthamstow Assembly Hall (Concerto);
January 1969, Decca Studios No.3 London [Sonata & Prelude].
ADD LYRITA SRCD.299 [60:25]
I must confess
that at the age of about 16 I fell in love with Peers Coetmore.
I recall buying the original Lyrita vinyl album of the Cello
Concerto from a shop called Cuthbertson’s in Cambridge Street,
Glasgow. On the cover of that LP was a lovely photograph
of Moeran and Peers looking out over a hilly landscape which
I think was Hergest Ridge. It fulfilled all my youthful romantic
notions of what a woman should be like: one who loved the
British landscape, was a consummate musician and an attractive
lady. Since that time the Cello Concerto has been my number
one Desert Island Disc. It has never, in 38 years, been usurped
from that position. In spite of the fact of a certain critical
downer on Peer’s playing, it will always remain for me the
definitive performance of this masterly work.
few biographical notes about the composer may be helpful.
Ernest John (Jack) Moeran was born at Heston, Middlesex on
31 December 1894. He was the son of an Irish clergyman working
in Norfolk, so church music was a part of his upbringing.
He attended what was at that time the most musical of all
the public schools, Uppingham. His teacher there was Robert
Sterndale Bennett, the grandson of the British composer,
leaving school in 1913 he enrolled as a student at the Royal
College of Music. The course was to be short-lived. Upon
the start of hostilities in 1914, Moeran enlisted in the
Army. After service on the Western Front he returned to England
with a serious head wound: he never fully recovered from
the war he had some musical instruction from John Ireland.
However, most of his musical learning came from his two companions
- Bernard van Dieren and Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock).
regarded as an ‘English’ composer, Moeran had an Irish streak
in his blood: his father was born in Dublin! He was always
to love that great country and its people.
Moeran was to die on the banks of the River Kenmare on 1
December 1950, from what was thought to be a brain haemorrhage.
Moeran’s music changed from the ‘Irelandesque’ piano music
of the early ’twenties, through more folksong-inspired works
and the ‘high’ romanticism of the Symphony in G minor to
a new, personal, even neo-classical style forged during and
after the Second World War. Yet, underlying all these so
called ‘periods’ is a concern for structure and a warm, lyrical
tone that is always a feature of Moeran’s music.
understand the context of the works for cello it is necessary
to look at Moeran’s relationship with the cellist Peers Coetmore
- originally Kathleen Coetmore-Jones. The composer first
met Peers in 1930 whilst visiting the painter Augustus John.
She had been an exceptional pupil at the Royal Academy of
Music, winning a number of prizes. Nothing came of this first
later they were to meet once again at a concert in Leominster.
This time their friendship blossomed and for Moeran at any
rate it developed into love. One of the outcomes of this
relationship was a number of cello works dedicated to her.
26 July 1945 the couple were married. However it was not
a particularly ‘successful’ union. Moeran needed to escape
into solitude and Peers had considerable concert commitments
which led to long separations. Gradually they drifted apart,
with Peers finally working in Australia. All one can say
is that they were ‘incompatible’. Yet they shared some happy
moments, and this is well reflected in the one or two surviving
photographs of the couple.
I asked Eric Parkin about
Peers Coetmore. He immediately recalled that she was a delightful
lady, in spite of the fact that a rather fearsome friend
had suggested that Peers was terrifying! She greeted him
with a kiss.
Eric first met her
at the London Cello School in Holland Park for rehearsals.
They were slated to practise the E.J. Moeran Cello Sonata
and the Prelude for Cello and Piano. It was to be
taped for release by Lyrita Recorded Edition.
I asked him how he found
Peers Coetmore. He liked her from the very first: she was
a very down to earth kind of person. Peers had not heard
him play before so they began to work through the Sonata.
She stopped him at the end of the second page. To Eric’s
relief she said, “this is marvellous!” They played the work
through a couple of times and it was ready for
A few days later Parkin recalled making his way, by
train, from his home village of Watlington in Oxfordshire
to the Decca studios. The entire recording of the Sonata
and the Preludewas
made in a single day with no problems – apart from the balancing.
Eric recalls that these issues were resolved by ‘blocking
Eric off’ and just allowing him to be able to glimpse Peers.
I wondered what Eric had thought about her
playing: he was impressed with her yet felt that she was
somewhat past her peak. At this time Peers would have been
sixty-four years old. This perhaps explains why critics raved
about her performances of the cello works in the 1940s and
were lukewarm with the present Lyrita recording which was
released in the 1970s.
The final chapter of this story is rather poignant. Apparently
Peers came to Watlington one day when Eric was not at home.
Neighbours later told him that she had seemed very upset
that he was away. He does not know what the call was about
and he never saw her again. Peers Coetmore died in 1977.
Self mentions four works composed for solo violoncello in
his book ‘The Music of E.J. Moeran’ (1986). These are the
Concerto for cello and orchestra of 1945, the Prelude for
cello and piano of 1943, the Irish Lament of 1944
and the Sonata, for cello and piano of 1947.
The Prelude for
Cello and piano is a uncomplicated, yet profound piece. A
broad and lyrical melody is played over an extremely simple
accompaniment. Common chords and secondary sevenths are the
staple harmonic feature. The Prelude was Moeran’s
first piece which he dedicated to Peers. It was gifted to
her as a ‘keepsake’ whilst she was on tour with ENSA during
the war. Strangely, but not surprisingly, the first performance
of the piece was in Alexandria in Egypt.
does not rate the piece highly: “it is a work of little distinction;
the cello melody is shapely enough, but the piano part is
frankly dull. It is ... doomed to a humble place in grade
examination lists.” Yet perhaps the ‘dullness’ of the piano
part gives the piece much of its charm. The lyrical quality
of the melody is allowed to predominate without competition
from the piano. The overriding characteristic is warmth.
The Prelude was published by Novello in 1944.
am sorry that the Irish Lament does not appear to
have been recorded by Peers Coetmore and Eric Parkin. I assume
that if it had been, then it would have appeared on this
CD. The Lament was based on a ‘genuine’ Irish folksong.
It was composed in 1944 and was published by Novello in the
Sonata has been regarded as Moeran’s most accomplished
work. Whether this is true is probably a matter of taste
rather than judgement. However in this piece the composer
seems to strike a good balance between his various styles
and influences: neo-classicism and romanticism come together
in a satisfying unity. The composer wrote in a letter to
Peers, “I have just spent all yesterday on cello sonata
proofs. You know I don’t usually boast, but coming back
to it, going through it note by note, and looking at it
impartially, I honestly think it is a masterpiece. I can’t
think how I ever managed to write it.”
have noticed allusions to Bax and even to Bartók in the working
out of the Sonata. Yet it is difficult to try to explain
this or that passage in terms of influence. For this is a
distinctive work by Moeran: it is mature and self-assured
and never verges on parody or plagiarism.
the Cello Sonata is, to be frank, a depressing piece.
Some of the pages have been likened to the peat bogs of Ireland:
gloomy and dark. There are moments of optimism and occasional
flashes of light but surely the lasting impression is of
quiet and shadowy restraint and perhaps even melancholy.
The Sonata consists
of three movements: Tempo Moderato-Allegro, Adagio and Allegro.
The first performance was given in Dublin by Peers Coetmore
on 9 May 1947. Charles Lynch was the pianist. It was published
by Novello in 1948.
world of British cello concertos is fairly sparse – at least
when compared to symphonic works. Naturally every example
of the genre is understood in light of the great and ubiquitous Concerto in
E minor by Sir Edward Elgar. In fact many music-lovers would
be hard-pressed to name another example. There are a number
of fine concertos – including those by Arthur Sullivan, Alan
Rawsthorne, Gerald Finzi, Frank Bridge and Kenneth Leighton
to name but five. And from Central Europe comes the great
work by Antonin Dvořák. This is regarded by Geoffrey
Self as seminal for Moeran’s Concerto.
Concerto is surely the highlight of this present CD
release. This is a work that manages to balance the formal
constructs of a classical concerto with the beauties of
Irish folktunes. Many critics hold Raphael Wallfisch’s
interpretation of the Concerto to be definitive.
However, I have to hold my hand up and say that although
I have enjoyed Wallfisch’s performances of this work – both
at the Barbican Hall and on Chandos with Norman del Mar,
I do not find it as satisfying as the Coetmore/Boult version.
I have thought long and hard about this and I think that
there are two good reasons why I take this stand.
it is well known that Peers Coetmore had a style of playing
that was more appropriate to chamber music. Moeran was conscious
of this limitation – if that is what it was. The work uses
the orchestra as a partner for the soloist – not as an adversary.
The work was created solely for her: he wrote “I would not
allow anyone else to play it and I will not, while it is
still under my control …” Earlier he had written to Peers
with enthusiasm, “Now please write and tell me you would
like me to write a concerto specially for you, and I give
you my promise that I will put my whole heart into it … I
will be able to walk the Kerry Mountains with a real happy
object in view.” It was to be their own special work – a
union of player and composer.
this present recording has been criticised for giving “an
inadequate picture of this work” and the reason given is
that her “insight is not matched by playing of sufficient
strength or skill.” Now to my ear what Wallfisch lacks is
the insight to Moeran’s mood, his loves and his feelings
for his wife. I feel that Wallfisch gives a ‘big’ performance
that sometimes overwhelms the intimacy of this work.
the reviewer of the Manchester Hallé performance was impressed
by Peer’s playing. He wrote that she gave a “delightfully
spirited performance”. He notes that “once or twice a slightly
doubtful intonation was heard.” But finally he considers
that the “general firmness and fluency of Miss Coetmore’s
playing were as admirable as its interpretive range.”
Peers manages to balance the various elements of this work
in a more satisfying manner that Wallfisch. She empathises
with the Celtic nature of many of the themes of the works
- yet she never allows the Irishry to subsume those more
urbane passages of which there are not a few. She brings
a heart-rending beauty to the slow movement and a genuine
sense of optimism to the finale. I have long felt that that
this recording – made nearly twenty years after Moeran’s
death - is to be regarded as Peers’ mature reflection of
her life and love with Jack. As such it is totally indispensable.
last thought: it is not possible to read a definite programme
into the Cello Concerto or any of the works written
for Miss Coetmore: they are not ‘autobiographies’. However,
it is clear that in many pages and passages of these works
Ernest John Moeran expressed the genuine, deep love and devotion
he felt for Peers.
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