Elgar's Cello Concerto enlivens an ambitious Festival Miami concert, reviewed by LAWRENCE BUDMEN
Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) was the dominant creative voice of British music in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A Brahmsian by temperament and artistic principles, Elgar combined the Romantic tradition with a decidedly nationalistic sensibility. Elgar's late works are distinguished by an autumnal nobility and mastery of form. The chamber music scores (the String Quartet in E minor Op 83 and the Piano Quintet in A minor Op 84) are marked by superbly inventive instrumental writing and strongly felt musical statements. Even greater clarity and expressivity are the hallmarks of Elgar's great Concerto for Violincello in E minor Op 85 (1919). While the score requires a cellist of protean technique and artistry, this is not a display piece in the nineteenth century sense. Elgar's long spun lyricism and instrumental grandeur speak eloquently in this unique score. Cellists from Pablo Casals and Emanuel Feuermann to Jacqueline Du Pré, Lynn Harrell, Yo-Yo Ma, and Steven Isserlis have been drawn to this British masterpiece. The soaring musical evocation of Elgar's Cello Concerto opened an ambitious Festival Miami concert on 1 October 2004 at the UM Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables, Florida, USA.
Ross Harbaugh, a longtime member of the UM Phillip and Patricia Frost School of Music faculty, was a compelling soloist in Elgar's elegiac score. This work has been a specialty (a near signature piece) of Harbaugh's teacher -- the great Hungarian cellist Janos Starker. While best known as a chamber musician, Harbaugh is a commanding solo instrumentalist. His vigorous, assured attack in the opening cadenza set the pace for a performance that captured the score's tragic yearning yet did not shortchange the music's surging emotional climaxes. Harbaugh's spacious, aristocratic phrasing of the memorable theme in the first movement's Moderato section caught the score's mellow twilight glow. His dashing treatment of the Allegro molto had just the right touch of serious bravura. The romantic nostalgia of the Adagio found lyrical expression in Harbaugh's warm, singing tone. Harbaugh tossed off the pyrotechnical hurdles of the Allegro finale yet also found the music's tragic (post World War I) subtext. While Harbaugh's traversal of this masterpiece was emotionally somewhat coolly cerebral, his elegantly sculptured shaping of the melodic lines did justice to this memorable work. He was aided and abetted by conductor Thomas Sleeper whose shapely, unhurried account of the score was frequently eloquent. After some initially tentative playing, the University of Miami Symphony Orchestra performed with increasing confidence and assurance.
Copyright © 12 October 2004
Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA