Violin Concerto - 1937-41
The Violin Concerto is without doubt one of Moeran's finest musical achievements, a work which truly deserves a place amongst the great works of history. And yet, its story is one of sorry neglect, with the only known recording prior to 1979 a privately cut set of 78's owned by Moeran's friend, Lionel Hill, recently made available on a CD transfer. One can only speculate at the different course history might have taken had a commercial recording been made during Moeran's lifetime, with the composer around to promote it - surely it would now sit beside Elgar's Concerto in the repertoire.
Moeran began work on his Violin Concerto almost as soon as the ink was dry on his Symphony, and it has been suggested that the work is in some way an answer to the questions raised in that work. It is certainly much lighter in spirit, a deliberate evocation of Moeran's beloved west of Ireland. Many commentators have drawn comparison with Elgar's Violin Concerto, suggesting this as a reference piece for the Moeran, and while there are parallels which one might draw in detailed analysis, they remain two quite different works.
The Moeran Concerto has a joy to it, particularly in the evocation of Puck Fair in the second movement, a delightful frolic through the sights and sounds of that most famous of traditional Irish fairs. This is surrounded by two beautiful evocations of the landscape around Kenmare, County Kerry, with the first movement addressing Kenmare Bay, the last an autumnal scene along Kenmare River. In all three movements the clouds which gathered over the Symphony are lifted, and we find Moeran's personal answer to his demons. The tensions he builds up here do find resolution, in beauty, scenic grandeur (although not in the Elgarian sense at all) and thrilling excitement.
With its soaring solo lines, the violin enters almost immediately, and completely commands the movement. The tone is one of exploration, of powerful scenery, of quiet pools, rushing waterfalls, high peaks and gentle valleys. Moeran's musical language is very much his own, with only a brief incursion of a folk-like melody, and yet the evocation of that area is near perfect.
From the opening fanfare we're immediately transported to a different place, and the soloist introduces us on a merry jig through the thrills and spills of the fair, with some fabulous technical fireworks thrown in, and an unmistakable Irish flavour to the melodies and rhythms. Moeran's mastery of orchestral textures and possibilities is brilliant, as he effortlessly leads us from one scene to another, and one pictures the freewheeling joy and chaos, the people, old and young, the merry revellers, and the quiet corners, the beautiful people he loved so much. Listen out for what Geoffrey Self described as the rather tipsy waltz which makes a brief appearance towards the end of the movement!
The feeling here is often more of serenity, and although clouds appear to be gathering at the start of the movement, small rays of sunlight break through from time to time, sufficient to light the way, to pick out a path, holding our spirits up for a resolution of almost heart-rending beauty and ultimately autumnal tranquility. Here is Moeran's answer to life's problems, found in the country landscape he visited again and again, and where he found the inspiration for so much of his work.