Lalo Explores the Cello’s Impressive Range

Fading. © Charles Thibo

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while are aware that – being a piano apprentice – I have a soft spot for the cello. I had to discover the broad tonal range of the piano to appreciate the smaller but still impressive range of the cello. It translates into a broad choice of moods from sinister, depressive, to cosy, comfortable and even glorious and triumphant.

The first movement of Edouard Lalo’s Cello Concerto in D minor fully exploits the possibilities of the instrument, and I suggest you listen to the recording of the French cellist Pierre Fournier and L’Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux under Jean Martinon. It is a very moving piece in three movements and in my mind it took the shape of a good-bye, a good-bye to the summer. It has been an exciting time, but now it is fading away, blending into an early autumn with its own special moments.

Lalo wrote the cello concerto between 1876 and 1877 in collaboration with the Belgian cellist Adolphe Fischer. It was first performed by Fischer on 9 December 1877 and it was one of the first composition after Lalo had endured a period of  discouragement. Parallel to the concerto he worked on his opera “Fiesque” in three acts to a libretto by Charles Beauquier after Friedrich Schiller’s play of the same name. The opera was never performed and failed to secure Lalo a composition prize, which embittered Lalo greatly.

So does this mood translate into that cello piece? Did Lalo consider abandoning his career as a composer at the age of 43, 44? Did he go through a mid-life crisis before the term had been coined? I don’t think so. If the first movement has a certain sadness, it lacks the violent emotions that Lalo might have felt when thinking about his career. And the second movement has such a joyful, light-hearted and hopeful theme – if Lalo ever had a mid-life crisis, he had already overcome it at the time he wrote the middle piece of the concerto. That theme where Lalo’s Spanish descent shines time. © Charles Thibothrough – no, Lalo was perhaps a Don Quixote, but not a Wagnerian tragic hero. This is also illustrated by the slow beginning of the last movement evolving into an energetic theme, full of confidence and the desire to act.

The French musicologist Nicolas Southon defines Lalo’s style as “situated midway between the legacy of [Hector] Berlioz and the German tradition” and “characterised by its rhythmic dynamism, the important place that he grants to the orchestra (which led to him being accused of Wagnerism) and a musical language that is often enhanced by a subtle exoticism.” Wagner was certainly one of the greatest composers of all, but Lalo’s compositions and specifically the Cello Concerto in D minor are far more subtle than Wagner’s bombastic sound.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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