Accompanied by the hr-Sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra), Argentine cellist Sol Gabetta performs Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85. Conductor: Krzysztof Urbański. Recorded at the Alte Oper Frankfurt on November 19, 2021.
Edward Elgar: Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85. Sol Gabetta (soloist, cello), hr-Sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra) conducted by Krzysztof Urbański.

Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85

Composed in the aftermath of the First World War, during the summer of 1919, Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 is Edward Elgar’s (2 June 1857 – 23 February 1934) last notable work.

Partly due to its disastrous premiere, the work did not achieve wide popularity until the 1960s when a recording by the British cellist Jacqueline du Pré (26 January 1945 – 19 October 1987) caught the public imagination and became a classical best-seller.

The premiere of the work was on 27 October 1919, at the opening concert of the London Symphony Orchestra’s 1919-20 season. Apart from the concerto, which the composer conducted, the rest of the concert programme was conducted by the English conductor and composer Albert Coates (23 April 1882 – 11 December 1953), who overran his rehearsal time at the expense of Elgar’s.

Alice Elgar (9 October 1848 – 7 April 1920), Edward Elgar’s wife wrote: “…that brutal selfish ill-mannered bounder… that brute Coates went on rehearsing.”

So, Edward Elgar and the performers had not enough rehearsal time to perform well.

The soloist was the English cellist Felix Salmond (19 November 1888 – 20 February 1952). Elgar attached no blame to him, who played for him again later. Elgar said that if it had not been for Salmond’s diligent work in preparing the piece, he would have withdrawn it from the concert entirely.


Elgar’s cello concerto is in 4 movements:

  1. Adagio – Moderato.
    • Adagio: The first movement is in ternary form (see notes 1) with an introduction. It opens with a recitative (see notes 2) for the solo cello, immediately followed by a short answer from the clarinets, bassoons and horn. An ad lib (see notes 3) modified scale played by the solo cello follows. The viola section then presents a rendition of the main theme in Moderato, and passes it to the solo cello who repeats it. Elgar considered it to be his tune: “if you ever hear someone whistling this melody around the Malvern Hills (see notes 4), that will be me”.
    • Moderato: The string section plays the theme a third time and then the solo cello modifies it into a fortissimo restatement. The orchestra reiterates, and the cello presents the theme a final time before moving directly into a lyrical E major middle section. This transitions into a similar repetition of the first section. This section omits the fortissimo modified theme in the solo cello. The slower first movement moves directly into the second movement.
  2. Lento – Allegro molto.
    • Lento: The second movement opens with a fast crescendo with pizzicato chords in the cello. Then, the solo cello plays what will be the main motive of the Allegro molto section.
    • Allegro molto: Pizzicato chords follow. A brief cadenza is played, and sixteenth-note motive and chords follow. A ritardando leads directly to a scherzo-like section which remains until the end.
  3. Adagio. The slow third movement starts and ends with a lyrical melody, and one theme runs through the entire movement. The end flows directly into the finale (again with no pause).
  4. Allegro – Moderato – Allegro, ma non-troppo – Poco più lento – Adagio. Elgar’s Cello Concerto’s finale begins with another fast crescendo and ends at fortissimo. The solo cello follows with another recitative and cadenza. The movement’s main theme is noble and stately, but with undertones and with many key-changes. Near the end of the piece, the tempo slows into a più lento section, in which a new set of themes appears. The tempo slows further, to the tempo of the third movement, and the theme from that movement is restated. This tempo continues to slow until it becomes stagnant, and the orchestra holds a chord. Then, at the very end of the piece, the recitative of the first movement is played again. This flows into a reiteration of the main theme of the fourth movement, with tension building until the final three chords, which close the piece.


  1. Ternary form, sometimes called song form, is a three-part musical form consisting of an opening section (A), a following section (B) and then a repetition of the first section (A). It is usually schematized as A-B-A.
  2. Recitative here used to refer to parts of purely instrumental works which resemble vocal recitatives, in terms of their musical style. In an instrumental recitative, one instrument (or group of instruments) are given the melody line (akin to the role of the singer) and another instrument (or group of instruments) are given the accompaniment role.
  3. Latin for “at one’s pleasure” or “as you desire”.
  4. Malvern is a spa town and civil parish in Worcestershire, England.


M. Özgür Nevres

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