From its opening solo cadenza, the first movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto is filled with voices of lament and nostalgia. An almost shell-shocked single viola line announces the movement’s wandering main theme (around the 1:33 mark). Listen to the way this theme develops as it is passed from one group of instruments to another, moving from gloomy acceptance to brief, anguished outbursts. Some of this piece’s most atmospheric details are barely audible, like the distant rumble of the tympani in this passage. Strangely, amid all of this darkness and sonic depth, there are also swirling comedy and frivolity. In these moments, we’re reminded that this music is filled with characters and distinct personas. Yet, at the end of the final movement, we suddenly find ourselves back at the opening cadenza. No sudden leap of transfiguration is possible- only the melancholy beauty of an eternal present.
This live performance took place in Brisbane, Australia in September, 2014. It features the extraordinary up-and-coming cellist Julian Schwarz. His father, conductor Gerard Schwarz, leads the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Following the applause at the end, Schwarz performs solo Bach as an encore: