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Classical Album of the Week: Edgar Moreau Dazzles Playing Offenbach's Cello Concerto Militaire

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June 17, 2019. For a guy associated with the levity and comedic flourish of 19th-century French operetta (think Moulin Rouge and the "can-can"), Jacques Offenbach and his “militaire” cello concerto may come as a bit of a surprise to some classical listeners.

Before his rather clownish compositional flair for the stage was fully realized in the 1850s and '60s (he eventually composed 100 operettas), Offenbach was making his way in the world as a touring cellist and as a (slightly) more serious composer of songs and music for cello.

Among those earlier works is the Grand Cello Concerto in G Major (1847). This is a piece bookended by two highly athletic, showpiece movements (complete with the sort of military fanfare its nickname suggests), surrounding a lyrical, Schubertian slow movement.

Prepare to be dazzled and entertained – the most virtuosic of cellists can really shine in this repertoire, with some not-for-the-faint-of-heart, upper-register gymnastics on full display.

In this week’s Classical Album of the Week, Parisian cellist Edgar Moreau does not disappoint. He rises to that technical challenge and also delivers a moving middle movement, rich enough to bridge the power of the outer movements and yet tender enough to offer a perfect respite from those flashy bookends.  Sit back and treat yourself to Moreau and Les Forces Majeures, led by conductor Raphaël Merlin, in a performance of the third movement, Allegretto:

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The concerto is much more about fun than gravitas, and the lack of the latter probably allowed the piece to fall away from the hearts and minds of players and audiences alike. After more than a century forgotten, the piece resurfaced in an abridged form in the late 20th century.

Then, in 2006, after some key manuscript discoveries, the concerto in its full, original length finally made a comeback. As a result, Moreau’s album is an important addition to a too-small pool of recordings of this work.

You’d be hard-pressed to find another concerto with the combined personality and zealous energy of this.