Braving the Stave

Fauré's Élégie with Jonathan James

May 25, 2020 Jonathan James Season 1 Episode 3
Braving the Stave
Fauré's Élégie with Jonathan James
Chapters
Braving the Stave
Fauré's Élégie with Jonathan James
May 25, 2020 Season 1 Episode 3
Jonathan James

Fauré's Élégie gives us one of his most memorable, singable melodies. But it offers so much more. Jonathan James explores why this short work packs such an emotional punch, using the version cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason was due to play this summer in the hall.

This podcast is related to the concert that would have taken place on the 6 June 2020 at St David's Hall, Cardiff with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.


Support the show (https://cafdonate.cafonline.org/11010#!/DonationDetails#%2FDonationDetails)

Show Notes Transcript

Fauré's Élégie gives us one of his most memorable, singable melodies. But it offers so much more. Jonathan James explores why this short work packs such an emotional punch, using the version cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason was due to play this summer in the hall.

This podcast is related to the concert that would have taken place on the 6 June 2020 at St David's Hall, Cardiff with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.


Support the show (https://cafdonate.cafonline.org/11010#!/DonationDetails#%2FDonationDetails)

Jonathan James:   0:00
Hello. Even if you don't know this piece, I think you can tell that we're dealing with some kind of lament. This is the Elegy by Gabrielle Faure for cello and in this case string orchestra. It's just so wonderful, isn't it? This second episode of Braving the Stave is about looking into what makes this music so powerful, so memorable. My name's Jonathan James and I do a lot of pre concert and talks at St David's hall. These podcasts are about keeping you connected to that space and to the music that would normally be filling it. In this case, music from the classical concert by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra with cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. He's been enjoying a meteoric rise as need to his early career and it's his recording that I'm gonna be using for this podcast.  An arrangement of the Elergy from his latest album called Elgar. Actually, I once went to Sheku's former school in Nottingham to do a music workshop there, and I was astounded by the sheer amount of instruments that they had in their store room, these violins and cellos and instruments of all kinds of sizes just packed right up to the rafters. It was clearly such a nurturing environment on everybody was duly proud, not just of Sheku's achievements and those of his very musical family, but also about what the school music had achieved. Music had really turned that place around Ihave the sense and in such an emphatic way. Anyway, let's talk about Gabrielle Faure. He had quite a few phases to his great of life, but I think there are a few traits that are common to all of them. One - Long stretched out melodies that are crystal clear and somehow managed to shine.  Two - lyrical harmonies that do the unexpected and titillate. Finally - Three beautifully supple and fluid textures. Let's just take one of his other famous works, The Requiem, to demonstrate all of those elements coming together. This is the opening of the Arnosti. I hope you might recognise that it's one of his most famous and adored works, but fame came quite late to him, not least because he wasn't chasing it on. At the time of writing the Elergy, he was still a relatively unknown organist. Yet to make his mark aged just 35. This short, yet perfect work was originally intended as a slow movement for a starter for cello and piano, and it shows how open he was at that stage to really wear his heart on his sleeve. Now, if you're writing a laments, you want to have falling lines ideally, that seem to wail something that feels as if it could be sung from the heart. And that's exactly what we get with the opening here. Some heavy, grief laden cords to start with. Then the cello descends right from its tenor range down into the bass. This desperate cry gets echoed as a whisper for a I knew he'd found a superb melodic shape, and he wasn't afraid to repeat it. In fact, it will come back again later with huge power. Just listen to this thing. It's marked to be played 'Con Grandezza'  - With grandeur. Grief at its most heart rending and yet still noble. The middle section allows some emotional distance from all of that, and it has a nostalgic quality for me, like remembering the good times together with great fondness. In the original version this gently twisting tune is played by the piano, but Sheku, who plays it here in the most tender register of the cello and it's remarkably effective. These quiet memories give way to a surge of anger, as if we're battling the grief now; denying the death. What's so powerful is that right at the end of this lament, what Faure leaves us with is not this anger, but rather the echo of those fond memories from before giving us their shape and their rhythm. This time, with a sense of resignation and the piece, ends with a deathly minor chord. There is such emotional range isn't there in this short piece and it's a wonderful way, perhaps, of venting the darker emotions as we endure this lock down period together. So do join me again as I brave the stave of another wonderful work soon.