George Lloyd: Cello Concerto & Orchestral Suite No. 1 from 'The Serf'
He completed his "Cello Concerto" in July 1997, a year before his death at the age of 85. The first page of the composer's score is inscribed "Have you no pity for those you would destroy?" Those of you who are aware of all the troubles Lloyd had getting his music performed will know something of what this statement means. Those who do not will find the informative program notes, written by his nephew, William Lloyd, most helpful. Here is a concerto for cello born of the same spirit and tradition as the Elgar Concerto. Anthony Ross is the principal cellist of the Minnesota Orchestra. Lloyd was 25 in 1938, when his second opera The Serf was given its first performances at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in London. Lloyd himself considered that the opera contained some of his best music, and it was therefore continually frustrating to him that the work did not receive a second hearing. Typically, Lloyd was determined that the music of The Serf would not lie unperformed forever, so he decided to rework sections of the opera into two orchestral suites. By 1997, he was already suffering from the heart failure which eventually killed him, but he worked twelve hours a day for eight weeks, knowing he might not get the work finished, and indeed, the strain of that effort probably did hasten his death.
Hybrid CD / SACD
“I think this Cello Concerto is a truly great piece. Yes, it's tonal, and yes, realistically it could have been written any time in the last 140 years: but so what? - there are plenty of precedents for great works stylistically out of time” Amazon Reviewer
The works on this disc are from different ends of his career and they are prime Lloyd. The Cello Concerto, despite being a late work, recaptures his quintessential and captivating flow of ideas and treatment unembarrassed by anachronism. The playing is, I think, all that the composer might have wished for. This is a concerto that stands in the proud line represented by the Dvořák, the Elgar and the Finzi.
The Concerto is in one movement though blessedly banded on this disc in seven sections: 1. violante, doloroso (smacks of the style of Kodaly's solo cello sonata with some lovely tremulous pianissimi); 2. Vivo (Elgar and some ineffably romantic strokes as at 4.30); 3. Adagio (very Sibelian/Tchaikovskian and close to the joie de vivre of Lloyd's chef d'oeuvre, his Sixth Symphony); 4. Andante (elegiac, yet more Sibelian string writing, Elgarian); 5. Vivo (bright eager woodwind skip and skim around the cello's swallow-tailed flight line - some supple, velour-toned string writing and playing); 6. Moderato; 7. Largo (no conventional high jinks but an ineluctably sincere farewell, sounding a little like the slow movement from the Moeran Symphony and instantly memorable for the hollow drumbeat that tolls arhythmically through the slow descent into silence and darkness - an ave atque vale that confounds all need for flourishes and fireworks). The sepulchral beat of the drum recalls the valedictory drum-line in the epilogue of Bax's Sixth Symphony. That last movement is extremely impressive and affecting. When the muted din around Lloyd has subsided I am sure that this work will be counted amongst the strongest of his output. It is without a doubt the best of his concertos.
The Serf, is one of Lloyd's three operas; the others being Iernin and John Socman. It is the work of a man of 25, his second opera (the first being Iernin) premiered at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1938. The movements are: 1. Woodlands (evocative of a cathedral of trees, sacerdotal in mood); 2. Sigrid's Fear (tension, a Verdian breadth and fall to the melody; a touch of Rota's Romeo and Juliet long before Rota, of course, and even a warming, slightly sorrowing breath from Miaskovsky); 3. Love Duet (a Baxian ochre-tone sets the scene over which develops an emotional dialogue catching half-lights and reflections from the Moeran Symphony, from Howard Hanson's love music in the Merry Mount opera, and from Vaughan Williams' Sir John in Love); 4. Deciso (something of the vivo sections of the Sixth Symphony); 5. Sicily (tragic and reflective); 6. Fate (a potently oppressive eldritch Baxian atmosphere); 7. Outrage (a gripping on-the-edge-of-seat scherzo with a shadow of the Dies Irae putting in an appearance; it being 1938 we might be forgiven for catching an augury of Poland and a glimpse or two of Guernica).
The plot of The Serf has about it something of Sibelius's Kullervo. This too has the hapless lovers, Sigrid and Cerdic, discovering that they are brother and sister. The destructive Robert de Fulke covets Sigrid for his own and when the two take to the road he pursues them but is killed. The two lovers take their own divergent paths - tragically bereft. Their resigned farewells resound stoically through a tawny twilight. The Bible-black violence of the closing bars can be seen as predictive of the horrors and callousness Lloyd was to suffer in the then impending world war.
This is a hybrid multi-channel SACD disc also playable on standard CD players. I can only comment on the conventional CD performance which sounded excellent to me. MusicWeb-International