Saturday, February 27, 2021

Röntgen - Cello Concerto No. 2 In G Minor

Although not a cellist,  Julius Röntgen, had a love affair with the instrument that lasted over 60 years of his life. He wrote 14 sonatas for cello and piano, 2 sets of variations for cello and piano, 3 cello concertos as well as numerous chamber works that included the instrument. Röntgen was great friends with many cellists, including Pablo Casals which whom he played in chamber music recitals and dedicated some of his cello works to.  Five of his six sons went on to be professional musicians, with
two of them cellists. 

Röntgen was on close terms with what the cello could do and the sounds it could produce. He was a traditionally minded composer, but could also show flashes of experimentation in atonal music, and wrote a bi-tonal symphony as well as impressionistic works from time to time. He had the rock-solid compositional technique that comes with talent and hard work. He wrote over 600 works, with about 100 of those works written in his retirement over the last eight years of his life. Some have said that perhaps his pen wrote too much. But most everything he wrote showed craftsmanship and inspiration. 

The 2nd Cello Concerto In G Minor was composed in 1909 and is dedicated to his friend Pablo Casals. It is in one continuous movement, but consists of 5 distinct sections:

I. Improvisation - Allegro non troppo - The concerto begins with a cello solo that is marked an improvisation, but is more like a written out cadenza. Perhaps the composer was referring to how the section should be played, i.e., freely as an improvisation. This cello solo lasts roughly 2 minutes and is like an overture to an opera as it presents much of the basic material that will be heard in the rest of the concerto. The orchestra enters robustly with more formalized versions of some of the material in the improvisation, a first theme. The cello re-enters with first theme material decorated with cellistic flourishes as the orchestra softly accompanies. This continues until a lyrical 2nd theme is introduced by the oboe. The theme shifts back and forth from minor to major key, and when the cello takes it up, the oboe accompanies it. The cello repeats the main motif of the improvisation section with pizzicato string accompaniment. Soloist and horns segue this first section directly to the next section: 

II. Andante con moto - This short section can be thought of as a kind of development section as motifs reappear briefly in the cello. The bass clarinet shares a mellow accompaniment, after which the pace of the music quickens and the mood brightens as a lead in to the next section:

III. Allegretto scherzando -  The theme of this brief scherzo is played by the cello to a light accompaniment. It is reminiscent of some of the material that has been heard previously, and it has the feeling of a lighthearted jig. A short section leads to the theme repeated in the woodwinds as the cello accompanies. After the cello gives a last rendition of the theme, the oboe repeats the lyrical second theme of the first section. This material segues to the next section:

IV. Andante expressivo - Another theme is introduced by the cello that has a folk song quality. Röntgen was a composer that was much interested in folk song, of his native Germany as well as his adopted Holland. The cello makes its commentary as the woodwinds take up the theme. The music turns more serious as the orchestra takes up the theme. The soloist re-enters with the theme, which now reminds the ear of material previously heard. The trumpet plays the theme as the orchestra becomes more agitated. The music turns mellow again, the horns give out pieces of the 2nd theme and another bridge leads to the final section.

V. Allegro non troppo, ma con fuoco - The cello plays a new theme, which repeats parts of the preceding music with the orchestra contributing substantially to the texture. It is the oboe theme from the first section that returns and acts as a kind of focal point to the entire concerto.  Orchestra and soloist keep the music moving until the final cadence.

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