Masterclass: Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor op.85


Cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras provides a detailed guide to performing this classic of the English repertoire

Edward Elgar wrote his cello concerto shortly after the First World War, and you can hear those troubled times in his music. It’s an unusual concerto because the first movement is slow, and because the main theme is not really a theme at all – it’s more of an enigma or a question. Before the cello takes it on, the theme is heard, barely harmonised, on the viola. This thin presence is the soul of the work, and it’s important to remember this before you start the piece – it’s not the same kind of music that you might find at the opening of other cello concertos or virtuoso pieces, such as Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, for example, where you need a soloist’s mentality.

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