Tovey: Cello Concerto, Air, Elegiac Variations
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Sir Donald Tovey: Cello Concerto, Air for strings, Elegiac Variations

Catalogue Number: TOCC0038
EAN: 5060113440389
Release Date: 6 April 2006
Duration: 67:04

Cello Concerto, Op. 40
Air for strings
Elegiac Variations, Op. 25, for cello and piano

Alice Neary, cello
Ulster Orchestra, orchestra
George Vass, conductor
Gretel Dowdeswell, piano

Donald Tovey (1875–1940) has long been known as one of the finest writers on music in English – but he saw himself primarily as a composer. His Cello Concerto – written for his friend Pablo Casals in 1932-33 – may be the longest in history; indeed, as he worked on the score he wrote to a friend that the first movement would be a ‘record-breaker’ and ‘much the juiciest’ music he had yet produced. The work sits mid-way between Brahms and Elgar, but has a lyrical and dignified voice that is uniquely Tovey’s. The contrasting tone of the dark, heroic Elegiac Variations was inspired by the death of Robert Hausmann, cellist of the Joachim Quartet and a cherished chamber-music partner of Tovey’s. And the charming Air for strings reveals his delight in a well-turned Classical theme.

Booklet texts   (PDF)

Track Listing, MP3 Downloads and Streaming Samples

Track No. Track Title / Details Duration Sample Add to Cart
1-4 Cello Concerto, Op. 40 (1932-33)

Sir Donald Francis Tovey, composer
Alice Neary, cello
Ulster Orchestra, orchestra
George Vass, conductor

(first digital recording)
1 I. Allegro Moderato 25:31 play
2 II. Andante Maestoso 12:01 play
3 III. Intermezzo: Andante innocente, con moto quasi allegretto 2:41 play
4 IV. Rondo: Allegro giocoso 14:20 play
5 Air (Andante cantabile) for strings (1933)
[arr. Peter Shore]

Sir Donald Francis Tovey, composer
Peter Shore, arranger
Ulster Orchestra, orchestra
George Vass, conductor

(first recording)
2:22 play
6 Elegiac Variations, Op. 25, for cello and piano (1909)

Sir Donald Francis Tovey, composer
Alice Neary, cello
Gretel Dowdeswell, piano
10:09 play


Sir Donald Francis Tovey

Sir Donald Francis Tovey, composer

Peter Shore

Peter Shore, arranger

Alice Neary

Alice Neary, cello

Ulster Orchestra

Ulster Orchestra, orchestra

George Vass

George Vass, conductor

Gretel Dowdeswell

Gretel Dowdeswell, piano


...this concerto is a five-star chef’s recipe of gorgeous, if somewhat derivative music, magnificently played by Alice Neary...

Jerry Dubins Fanfare November 2013

Yet another intriguing release

With a playing time of nearly 55 minutes, Sir Donald Tovey’s Cello Concerto (composed in 1932–33 for Pablo Casals) is almost certainly the longest ever written. Casals gave the world premiere in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall in November 1934, with the composer conducting. Two London performances by the dedicatee followed in 1935 and 1937. Plans for a modern recording fell through a decade or so ago; now Toccata Classics has at last delivered the goods.

Readers who know and love their Brahms and Elgar will recognise many a stylistic and temperamental bond in this painstakingly plotted music. However, the protracted opening Allegro moderato constitutes something of a stumbling block. Both middle movements do little to dispel the obstinately somnolent mood – although the finale’s jocular yet cleverly manipulated antics nearly save the day. If you’ve enjoyed grappling with Tovey’s large-scale Symphony in D, it’s worth persevering. Alice Neary performs valiantly, with sympathetic (if at times rather under-energised) support from George Vass and the Ulster Orchestra. Throw in the engaging fill-ups, decent sound and assiduously detailed bookletnotes, and it adds up to yet another intriguing release from this young label.

Gramophone 2010


Laurence Vittes Audiophile Audition 10th April 2007

This is the first modern recording of Sir Donald Tovey’s Cello Concerto written in 1931–4 for his friend Pablo Casals who gave the first performance in Edinburgh in 1934. It is on a grand scale, lasting 54 minutes. Tovey was a great musicologist but this is not mere academic music. Its serene opening theme for the cello is a memorable inspiration and reappears as effective contrast to the stormy material of much of the rest of the movement. Tovey’s orchestration, sometimes reminiscent of Elgar, is never thick and cloying and allows the soloist full reign. The slow movement is a dark and sombre elegy, harmonically more adventurous than the rest of the work and rising to a passionate climax. The finale develops into an argument between soloist and orchestra that is both witty and dramatic. Alice Neary plays this demanding work with immense skill and dedication, and she is impressively supported by the Ulster Orchestra conducted by George Vass. The disc also includes a charming Air from an early quartet and recently arranged for orchestral strings by Peter Shore and the Elegiac Variations for cello and piano (Gretel Dowdeswell) which Tovey wrote in 1909 in memory of the cellist of the Joachim Quartet. A revelatory issue.

Michael Kennedy The Sunday Telegraph

Donald Tovey (1875–1940) will always be remembered as one of the UK's finest writers on music, though in his day he was also admired both as composer and pianist. He was a favourite accompanist of Pablo Casals, who gave the premiere of his Elegiac Variations in 1909, and for whom Tovey also wrote his Cello Concerto in 1933. The Concerto's notorious length – nearly an hour – proves its undoing. The central sections have great lyrical and emotional strength, but Tovey's carefully wrought, Brahmsian idiom often sits uneasily with his quest for structural expansiveness, and the outer movements are worryingly diffuse. The Variations, self-consciously peering back through Brahms to Schubert, occasionally sound derivative, but are also infinitely more satisfying in their compressed austerity.

Alice Neary is the intense, persuasive cellist in both works, though neither she nor her excitable conductor George Vass can disguise the Concerto's flaws. Gretel Dowdeswell is the weighty, impressive pianist in the Variations.

The Guardian


Colin Anderson Classical Source

Back in 1975 and the days of open-reel recording I taped off the air a centenary performance of Tovey's Cello Concerto. Thirty years later, long after tape and tape-recorder were history, I could still effortlessly recall to mind the Concerto's glorious opening theme, as memorable as that of Bruckner's Seventh Symphony, and not dissimilar in mood. The commercial recording at last of this wonderful work alone amply justifies Toccata's existence – thank you and bring on lots more!

David J. Brown


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