Nothing compares to the sound of cello. From the mouth of an apprentice pianist, this is a compliment, make no mistake. Such a variety of distinctive timbres: warm, welcoming, excitable, gaudy, at the same time rough, sad, melancholic, tragic. Here is a piece that illustrates this rich sound palette very nicely: Cello Concerto No. 2 in G minor, written in 1909 by the Dutch-German composer Julius Röntgen, whom we have already met already in a post on his Cello Concerto No. 3 in F sharp minor. Both have been recorded by the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra and the German cellist Gregor Horsch.
Enters the solitary cello
Take the opening of the first movement, called Improvisation by Röntgen: a solitary cello plays a sad wistful melody, gradually building up tension, a gentle theme interrupts the initial verve…. and then, the orchestra sets in with its full power – overwhelming! In my fantasies I see myself conducting this concerto with total physical commitment. Funny. The cello comes back to its original plaintive theme, but this time I hear an element of elation, conciliation.
The first movement flows into the second without a break, it is very short, the cello speaks to the double-bass, the rest of the instruments play a secondary role. The third movement, allegretto scherzando, is characterized by a jaunty melody, dance like, very lively, the cello nicely contrasting with the flutes and the triangle. Andante espressivo – the fourth movement is a blast, rapid repeated string figures, timpani beating the rhythm and the cello sings agoain its solitary melody, full of nostalgia. The strings, the brass and the timpany however yell: Hey, life goes on! Move on. This is no time to despair. And quite right, the last movement is marked by an uplifting, encouraging theme for cello, repeated by the orchestra. Amazing, I tell you!
A musical force multiplier
A few weeks ago, I listened consciously to this work – for the first time. It was a beautiful morning, the sun was about to rise of the horizon. I switched on the iPad in my car and… Röntgen! A motivating moment! From the first bars on, I was doomed: I listened to Röntgen all day long. The piano concertos, the cello concertos – I couldn’t get enough of it. What a pleasure! And what a beautiful day it predicted. It gave me strength and the openness to admire the beauty of small thing: the first butterflies, a particular flower in our garden, the first green tips of a tree on my way back home.
Again I came to the conclusion that listening to Röntgen’s music makes me feel good. What kind of man had he been? Was he a happy person? What troubled him? What made him feel comfortable? I don’t know. I found only one biography of Röntgen, and it is written in Dutch which I don’t understand. The reference books I have and Oxford Music Online did not offer much help this time. Röntgen is terra incognita. For how long, I wonder.
© Charles Thibo