August 17, 2020. Sir Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto was born into a world of global turmoil and personal strife for the composer. Against the backdrop of the grim aftermath of WWI, the concerto was composed in 1919 during a period of illness for Elgar. A short time later, his wife Alice died in the wake of the piece’s troubled premiere.
The concerto has been interpreted by generations of listeners as a beautiful, heartfelt lament for a war-weary people and of a broken-spirited man.
In our Classical Album of the Week, the Elgar Concerto’s intense emotion and humanity become a fitting partner to another, much newer concerto, written exactly 100 years later, by British composer Anna Clyne. Both can be heard in this new release featuring Israeli cellist Inbal Segev, American conductor Marin Alsop and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Clyne’s new concerto, entitled Dance, is inspired by 13th-century Persian poet, Rumi. His poem that begins "Dance, when you're broken open…" provides the titles of the concerto’s five movements.
On listening, there are certainly poignant, Elgarian moments, especially in the first movement, which do not disappoint, yet the piece stands out for its other qualities, too.
It manages to fold in quotes of Bach, echoes of Shostakovich and shading of both Celtic and Jewish musical vocabularies, and does so in a way that opens Clyne’s original voice out onto us resolutely and cohesively and not as a patchwork of disparate ideas.
Clyne, being a cellist herself, means that she’s able to write idiomatically. She knows her way around the instrument and we can hear Segev thriving in her compositional hand.
Even steadfast Elgar Concerto fans (who often can’t resist a new recording!) may admit that Dance rivals and perhaps even overshadows the Elgar on this album.
After a few listens, I can’t help but think many will agree. In Dance, Clyne hits her high-water mark and Segev really owns it, revealing a piece authentically hers. Having received its first performance 12 months ago at Christian Macelaru’s Cabrillo Festival in California, Dance is sure to enjoy a long, eventful life beyond this world-premiere recording.
Feel free to come for the Elgar but be sure to stay for the Clyne! You’ll be glad you did.
Inbal Segev, Marin Alsop and Anna Clyne introduce the album: