LALO: Cello Concerto in D minor / Cello Sonata (Bernd Glemser/ Maria Kliegel/ Michael Halasz/ Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia) (Naxos: 8.554469)
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Cello Concerto; Sonatafor cello & piano; Chants russes
Of remote Spanish ancestry, Edouard Lalo was born in 1823 in Lille, apart of France in which his forebears had settled some 250 years earlier. As aboy he studied the violin and the cello at Lille Conservatory, but his father,a former soldier in a family of continuing military traditions, prudentlyobjected to a musical career for his son. Denied further parental support, Lalomoved to Paris where, in 1839, he entered the violin class of Habeneck, whilestudying composition privately with the pianist Julius Schulhoff and then withJ.E. Cr?¿vecceur. He went on to earn his living first as a teacher and as aviolinist and in 1855 joined with the violinist Jules Armingaud and cellistLeon Jacquard in the establishment of a quartet under Armingaud's leadership.
The Armingaud Quartet, in which Lalo at first played the viola, won aconsiderable reputation for itself, not least for its performances ofBeethoven's quartets, which had at that time not been widely heard, and for arepertoire that ranged from Haydn and Mozart to Schumann and Mendelssohn.
Lalo's marriage in 1865 to a singer brought the composition of songs and thefollowing year an unsuccessful attempt at opera, Fiesque, entered for acompetition in which it failed to win a prize, but the source of the laterorchestral Divertissemeut, which uses the ballet music from the opera.
It was in the 1870s that Lalo began to come into his own as a composer,materially assisted by the Societe Nationale de Musique, established under theleadership of Camille Saint-Sa?½ns and the singing teacher Romain Bussine in theaftermath of the French defeat and capitulation at Sedan in 1871. Lalo haddestroyed the two symphonies he had written earlier in his career, but theperformance of his Violin Concerto, Opus 20, and the Symphonieespagnole by Pablo Sarasate, who had commissioned the work, won himincreasing recognition. A Cello Concerto followed in 1877 and in 1879the violinist Martin Marsick, a pupil of Joachim, gave the firstperformance of the Concerto russe, Opus 29. The following decade broughtLalo's only surviving Symphony and his Piano Concerto in F minor. Turninghis attention once more to the theatre, he won appreciation from some for hisballet Namouna, at least in the concert hall, with music that was muchadmired by the young Debussy, who had caused some disturbance at the Opera byhis display of enthusiasm, approval that persuaded the subscribers to securethe future banning of Conservatoire composition students from the Conservatoirebox. Namouna, centering on the slave-girl of the title, lost in a wagerby her master, was given only fifteen performances at the Opera, where it wasstaged in 1882 and Lalo was able to make use of some of the score again in his Symphony.
He enjoyed final theatrical triumph, however, with his opera Le roid'Ys, staged at the Opera-Comique in 1888. Based on a Breton legend, with aprincipal mezzo-soprano r??le originally designed for the composer's wife, theopera makes use of Breton folk-songs as an integral part of a particularlyFrench work. His reputation as a composer now secure, Lalo had only a few yearsto live. In 1891 he suffered a heart-attack and died in April 1892, leavingunfinished a new opera, La jacquerie, to be completed by Arthur Cocquardand mounted in Monte Carlo in 1895.
As a composer, whether of orchestral or chamber music, Lalo has a strongcommand of structure. His orchestration is often colourful, while his harmonicvocabulary can be dramatic in its choice of chord. His early contribution tochamber music repertoire, primarily in the 1850s, but with a return to theseforms in the 1880s, is matched by the significant orchestral compositions ofthe 1870s, with the colourful use of Spanish elements in the Symphonieespagnole, Russian themes in the second and fourth movement of the Concertorusse and Norwegian material in his Rapsodie norvegienne of 1879.
His compositional techniques have been compared to those of German composers of thetime and his use of relatively exotic material to the current practices of theRussian nationalists. He remains, however, a distinctive voice in French musicof the second half of the nineteenth century.
The Cello Concerto starts with a slow and impressiveintroduction, interrupted by passages for the soloist, who then, in thefollowing Allegro maestoso, launches into the principal subject of themovement, contrasted with the major key of the more lyrical secondary theme.
Elements of the introduction are to return throughout, but specifically in thecourse of the central development. The abridged recapitulation brings back thetwo subjects, followed by a coda of some brilliance, capped by ominousreference to the slow introduction. The Intermezzo combines slowmovement and scherzo, with the opening G minor Andantino con moto breakinginto a G major Allegro-?¡Presto, a process that is repeated. There is aSpanish touch in the Introduction of the last movement and thiscontinues intermittently in the lively thematic material that follows, presentin both melody and in jaunty rhythmic elements.
Lalo's Cello Sonata was written in 1856, at a time when he waspreoccupied as a performer and as a composer with chamber music. The sonataopens dramatically, with a secondary theme providing the necessary contrast ofkey and mood to the threat implicit in the motif with which the sonata hadbegun. There is a gentle lyricism and serenity in the second movement. This isdispelled at once by the forthright vigour of the final Allegro, interruptedby a hesitant passage, before the movement resumes its original impetus andproceeds to its rhetorical conclusion.
The Chants russes is a transcription for cello and piano of thesecond movement of Lalo's Concerto russe. The movement first offers theRussian theme in conjunction with the solemn chords of the piano, before goingforward to a more impassioned central section.