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CD Review

Ernest John Moeran

  • Cello Concerto *
  • Serenade in G Major (original version, 1948)
  • Lonely Waters **
  • Whythorne's Shadow
* Guy Johnston, cello
** Rebekah Coffey, soprano
Ulster Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
Naxos 8.573034 65:18
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There just aren't many great cello concertos out there, so it's nice to have a great modern recording of a work that arguably is one of the best. Despite a short lifespan during one of England's less than great musical periods, Ernest John Moeran did write some very beautiful music. Of his output, only the Serenade seems to be recognized as a "popular" work, but on evidence here, there's quite a bit more for the casual fan to enjoy.

Indeed, the Concerto, and not the Serenade, proves to be the main attraction. It's simply lovely, with the tunes spun in a very beguiling way. Infused with Irish folk-influences, there's much to enjoy, especially in the longingly wistful slow movement. I've not heard any other version of the piece, but Guy Johnston is at once commanding and enchanting as a soloist. He's also naturally recorded; his instrument does not sound huge, but instead proves naturally balanced within the orchestra. JoAnn Falletta is a master conductor, and she provides a highly satisfying accompaniment. The Ulster Orchestra plays this music better than anyone else on disc – they also recorded a Moeran survey for Chandos – and Naxos captures them in warm and realistic sound.

The Serenade in G is found in a "1996 edition of the original 1948" version. Basically, we get eight movements instead of six. Unless you are a true English/Irish music aficionado, I can't really see this being a huge deal. As I have been known to say in my earlier writings, different editions are nice to have but generally make little difference at the end of the day. With the charming Serenade, this is even more pronounced. The music was pretty in six movements, and is equally so in eight. I'm not complaining, though. The fillers sound lovely, with Lonely Waters proving particularly interesting; you don't usually get a soprano soloist on orchestral discs like this. In short, this is another feather in the cap for Naxos and another worthy issue for those looking to explore English classical music.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman