Elgar’s last major work, the celebrated CELLO CONCERTO, ranks among the most universally acclaimed masterpieces in the cello repertoire. In contrast to the lyrically pathétique Violin Concerto composed earlier, the Cello Concerto is of a more austere, broodingly melancholic character and to some extent echoes Elgar’s experiences during the First World War. It was composed in the summer of 1919 at the secluded Brinkwells Cottage in Sussex, where he had heard the nightly rumble of artillery all the way from France in earlier years. In 1918 the composer underwent a serious operation in London and when he regained consciousness after anaesthesia, on a sheet of paper he drafted a tune which would later become the first theme of the concerto. According to the composer, the work expresses the fear, frustration, hopelessness and thoughts of death that overwhelmed him at the time.
The premiere performance on 27 October 1919 at the opening of the London Symphony Orchestra’s season was a flop due to lack of sufficient rehearsal time and the concert was not performed again for over a year. In 1920, Elgar made a recording of the work with the famous cellist Beatrice Harrison (1892-1965), who was the first performer of a number of important works by English composers. Following Jacqueline du Pré’s brilliant interpretation in 1962, the concerto gained great popularity and was included in the repertoire of famous cellists of the twentieth century – Pablo Casals, Mstislav Rostropovich, Yo-Yo Ma, Steven Isserlis, etc. There are numerous recordings by the most renowned record companies as well as of the performances by Pierre Fournier, Antonio Menezes, Lynn Harrell, Felix Schmidt, Mischa Maisky, to name a few.
The concerto is built in a quite unusual for the genre four-movement structure. The slow first movement begins with an expressive cello recitative, which returns repeatedly as a kind of ‘voice of the composer’, while the violas first sounds the lamented main theme. Contrastingly, the scherzo-like second movement that follows is the brightest movement in the cycle, followed by the lyrical slow Adagio, flowing seamlessly into the expressive finale.