Hyperion Records

Cello Concerto in E minor, Op 78
Friedrich Gernsheim, born to a prominent Jewish family in Worms, studied in his home town with Louis Liebe (a pupil of Spohr) and later in Leipzig with Moscheles and Ferdinand David. He completed his musical education in Paris, where he also made a name for himself as a pianist, and later taught at the Cologne Conservatory, where he benefitted from the patronage of Ferdinand Hiller and also conducted one of the earliest performances of Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem. He spent some years conducting in Holland, where he introduced several of Brahms’s works, and taught in Berlin at the Stern Conservatory and the Academy of Arts. Gernsheim was a prolific composer whose works include four symphonies, concertos, and numerous chamber and choral works, and many of his compositions—such as the symphonies—interestingly reflect the reception of Brahms’s style and techniques by a sympathetic and talented contemporary.

Gernsheim’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Op 78, is a late work, published in 1907. For a while it was a decided success, and was among the last of Gernsheim’s works to drop out of the repertoire after his death in 1916. Though the Brahmsian aspects of its language are immediately apparent to the ear (and British ears may also feel a kinship with Parry and Elgar) it is formally unorthodox—in some respects closer to the conception of Volkmann’s concerto. Like the Volkmann it is cast in a single compact, formally intricate movement, though here the impression is more of a large ternary form that hinges on a lyric central episode fulfilling the role of a slow movement.

The concerto begins Allegro non troppo with the cello expounding the noble, flowing first subject, which Gernsheim soon starts to break up into smaller units for motivic development. A dreamy transition brings a more animated second group in C—both the key and the rhythmic character lead one to suspect Gernsheim had the first-movement exposition of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony at the back of his mind. An important element is a new cello theme, con fuoco e molto espressivo, which is to come into its own nearer the end of the work. A tranquillo return to the first subject dies away like a nostalgic codetta, only to be interrupted by a dramatic cello solo (marked quasi Fantasia) and a brief orchestral tutti, Vivo e con fuoco, that introduces the central Larghetto in E flat.

The cello, cantabile, takes the lead throughout this ardently lyrical episode, with an outpouring of long, shapely melody. As it climbs to the top of its register the Vivo e con fuoco tutti breaks in again, ‘framing’ the Larghetto; the orchestra, with the soloist, initiates a move to E major for the final span of the work. Marked Animato, ma non troppo, this ‘finale section’ is largely based on the quicker second group of themes from the ‘first-movement section’, especially the ardent con fuoco tune. A comparatively brief cadenza soon arrives and then evanesces into a scherzo-like development that sees the cello kept busy right up to the terse but triumphant coda.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2007

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