Concerto in Azzurro


by David Matthews

cello and orchestra
Solo Instruments with Orchestra
2(II=picc).2(II=ca).2(II=bcl).2 - 4231 - timp - perc(2): vib/glsp/2 susp.cym/ch.cym/gong/tam-t/ tgl/rainstick/chinese bell tree/BD - harp - cel - strings
Commissioned by the BBC
First Performance
5.10.02, Cheltenham Town Hall, UK: Steven Isserlis/BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox

Score 0-571-52029-4 on sale and parts for hire

Programme Notes

Concerto in Azzuro was commissioned by the BBC. I began my cello concerto in January 2000 and finished it, after several interruptions, in the spring of 2002. Like many pieces I have written, it is in a single large-scale movement, lasting just under 25 minutes. Its formal scheme is one I have also used before: it derives from the first movement of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony and can be described in essence as statement and expanded counter-statement. New to this Concerto, however, is an incorporation into the counter-statement of two other movement types from Classical sonata form: scherzo and slow movement. So that, in one sense, the Concerto can also be heard as a compressed three-movements-in-one piece: allegro, scherzo and lento finale. The allegro statement has the archetypal juxtaposition of energetic first subject group - a toccata-like dialogue between cello and orchestra, which after the first climax is developed and extended in a passage for orchestra alone - and, after a short bridging cadenza, a lyrical second theme. The counter-statement begins with a close recapitulation of the opening toccata, but it soon branches off into an extensive scherzo section which further develops the music of the first subject group. The scherzo reaches a loud and boisterous conclusion, and is followed by another cadenza which becomes for a time a duet with the 1st violin. The elaborate slow finale begins, at first with a motive from the first subject group, but then with a passionate development of the second theme. This erupts into the full orchestra for the climactic passage of the Concerto, which incorporates a further, brief recapitulation of the opening toccata. The cello's entry after the climax calms the music, leading to a quiet meditation on the second theme, and eventually bringing the piece to a serene, almost motionless conclusion. The Concerto does not have an extra-musical programme, except that in May 2001, when I had written the first section but was still uncertain about how the piece would progress, I visited the island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel in cloudless spring weather. The island, raised above the sea, seemed suffused with blue; and I conceived of the rest of the Concerto as a kind of journey towards that ultimate blueness. Since I associate the key of B flat with the colour blue, that became the inevitable tonal goal of the piece, one already foreshadowed by the fact that B flat is the first (long-held) note that the cello plays, but at the start it is in tritonal conflict with the orchestra's E minor. The gradual resolution of this initial conflict is the basic tonal argument of the Concerto. In the coda, everything gradually ebbs away into B flat: the strings' diatonic clusters melt into a long sustained unison, into which the solo cello merges in a final surrendering of individuality.

© David Matthews

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News & Reviews

'Concerto in Azzuro' review

'Concerto in Azzurro for cello and orchestra derives from a holiday spent on the Island of Lundy, and a vision of blueness there. This is represented at the concerto’s conclusion in a magical evocation, as soloist and orchestra’s convergence on B flat, and the swish of a rainstick, open up a vision of an everlasting sea and sky suffused' The Independent (Paul Conway), 15 October 2002 Read more

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