Elgar’s Concerto op. 85

There is a wistful and melancholic, yet warm and passionate quality about the Elgar Cello Concerto which perhaps initially endeared it almost exclusively to English hearts. Slowly, however (and doubtless with the help of the deservedly famous recording by Jacqueline du Pré), it is conquering the world, and is becoming recognised as one of the very few greatest cello concertos of all time.

But why a new Urtext Edition? The answer to this is that although the original Novello full score is a fairly accurate rendering  of Elgar’s autograph, with very few mistakes, the parts have always been a problem, since they are bristling with hundreds of errors of every kind, and moreover in some places simply carry an entirely different text – sometimes the old, superseded one, sometimes the new, revised one. It is time orchestras were able to use reliable material for this extremely popular and masterly concerto.

But although the solo part, as found in the Novello score, likewise follows Elgar’s autograph closely, the story does not end there. For there are no fewer than three further sources for the solo part, all of them autographs, all of them (inevitably) with discrepancies. And one of them is clearly marked as carrying Elgar’s final intentions in every detail. This autograph solo part differs in many important details (dynamics, articulation, note lengths) and also even the pitch of one note, which has been wrong for three-quarters of a century but was correct in both the recordings Elgar conducted himself with Beatrice Harrison as soloist. The complete autograph solo part is reproduced in full color facsimile in the Critical Commentary, which should prove an irresistible source of inspiration for cellists the world over.

Jonathan Del Mar

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