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Ernest John MOERAN (1894-1950)
Cello Concerto (1945)* [28:44]
Serenade in G (original version, 1948) [23:18]
Lonely Waters (c. 1931)** [8:01]
Whythorne’s Shadow (1931) [5:01]
*Guy Johnston (cello)
**Rebekah Coffey (soprano)
Ulster Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
rec. Ulster Hall, Belfast, UK, 6 February 2012 (Cello Concerto); 5 February 2012. DDD
NAXOS 8.573034  [65:18]

JoAnn Falletta became Principal Conductor of the Ulster Orchestra in 2011 and the relationship is happily extending beyond the concert hall to the recording studio. The team has already released a disc of lesser-known music by Holst, which was one of our 2012 Recordings of the Year (review) and I believe that more recordings, including the two very worthwhile symphonies of the American John Knowles Paine, are in prospect. For now, though, Falletta and her orchestra are staying with British music in this programme of works by Moeran.
 
So far as I know there have been two previous recordings of the Cello Concerto, one by Rafael Wallfisch (review) and an earlier one (reviews) by the composer’s widow, Peers Coetmore - not ‘Piers’, as per the Naxos booklet - for whom the work was written. I’ve not heard either of these. Guy Johnston gives a very fine performance of what is primarily a lyrical work. He displays beautiful tone and a fine sense of line in the many lyrical stretches of the first movement and that whets the listener’s appetite for the slow movement. This is a lovely piece, the heart of the concerto. Essentially it’s a nostalgic and songful reverie and Johnston catches the mood to perfection in an eloquent and sensitive reading in which he’s expertly accompanied by the Ulster players. Even the short cadenza, which links the last two movements, is more an occasion for rumination than display. In the finale the Irish folk element is very much in evidence. The present performance is thoroughly engaging and the lyrical digressions along the way are done with fine feeling, especially the extended episode towards the end. This isn’t a front rank concerto but Guy Johnston and JoAnn Falletta show it in the best possible light.
 
Having distinguished themselves as accompanists Ms Falletta and her orchestra have the field to themselves for the rest of the programme. They give the Serenade in its original eight-movement version. As Paul Conway says in his useful notes, the two movements that were excised by the publishers when the work was published are the ones with the most musical depth, the ‘Forlana’ in particular. Shorn of that movement and the ‘Intermezzo’, the Serenade is really a set of light music miniatures, albeit very well crafted and thoroughly attractive ones. The work is deftly played and the performance is most enjoyable.
 
Lonely Waters is an atmospheric and, for the most part, delicate little tone painting. This performance uses Moeran’s original version in which a solo soprano sings briefly at the end - there’s an alternative version in which the vocal line is given to a cor anglais. Rebekah Coffey sings the little solo very nicely.
 
Whythorne’s Shadow may well have been a tribute to Moeran’s friend, Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock), who was not long dead when Moeran wrote this piece. It’s a modest composition, lightly scored, which makes for very pleasant listening.
 
This is an attractive Moeran anthology. The performances are consistently excellent and Moeran enthusiasts should not hesitate.
 
John Quinn
 
See also reviews by Rob Barnett and Nick Barnard
 
Moeran review index