Cello Practising: Elgar I
Hello, welcome back to Advanced Cellotips. In this video I would like to practice an often neglected technical element, that of gestures. I have chosen the Elgar concerto to show what I call “sound gestures”, these are expressive gestures that bring out the sound you have in mind through their motions. This concert is one of the most dramatic and personal celloconcertos. It was written right after the end of the First World War, which had a big impact on Europe, England and on Elgar in person. It is a highly descriptive and dramatic piece, with a lot of changes in atmosphere, from dark mooded to lyrical.
I will demonstrate a practice method where I sing and make the gesture at the same time, although I am not a great singer. Then I’ll play the same passage and I will concentrate on the gestures, not on my technique. This is a fundamental element of gesture practicing. I use the concept of “whole-body approach,” connecting arms and body and concentrating on the underlying sensation that comes with it. As you can see on the screen: the main theme of the introduction contains two elements: long, sustained and intense notes and eighth notes that move towards the next chord or long note.
In the first chord I hold my arm back, to play the sostenuto, to maintain the intensity in the second beat. I do that by tensing my arm slightly, I call that a “square” gesture. And in the second chord I do the same thing, but I play it longer, to phrase it towards the third chord, which I play with a broad and “round” arm gesture, to bring out the cantabile character of the following eighth notes.
So let’s practice this a little (music)
Then we move to the subdominant (music) so don’t forget to play a crescendo (music) and to hold your arm back and then relax it in the cantabile eighth notes and then we move to the C chord (music) so I retake that C, to give it a bigger dramatic impact (music) I keep the vibrato during the diminuendo… So, after that C (music) I make a linking gesture: one single fluid gesture to place my bow on the B (music) and I attack it with a slight accent. I will play the passage (music) And after this dominant, this pause, I make a slow crescendo towards the low E , I relax my
back and I lean heavily on that note and maintain the vibrato to sustain it (music) So I will play the whole Introduction. (music)
The following transition passage raises two musical questions, the first two entries and the third is an affirmation of these two questions. To express the question mark at the end of the sentence, I raise my arm. So if I could sing that phrase and make the gesture (music) then I keep my arm still to visually connect with the entrance of the violas. Take care to keep the vibrato and change from portato to legato in the last four quavers. (music)
In the following cantabile phrase, the second theme, we can perfectly imagine Elgar in his country house, contemplating the green hills, the wind moving the trees. And to express that movement I use a very light and fluid arm gesture and I connect the up bow with the down bow with a fluid “linking gesture” (music) For the left hand: take care to vibrate the quavers, to play with a continuous vibrato. I use a “floating” elbow, which anticipates the placement of each new finger. (music)
In the following passage starting a compass before big number 5, to make that B-B octave jump, I use a wide movement of the left arm, moving it freely in the shoulder joint, and I use a fingering, to maintain the vibrato, instead of (music) where the 4-1 change hinders a little the action of the vibrato, I use (music) one, one, three, one, three, one, one (music). (music) And to sustain the phrase I use two supporting notes, the first I play in the G and the second in the F sharp and then I move towards the E final. (music)
In big number 10, as you can see on the screen, you have to change from a legato in the long notes to a fast detache in the semiquavers. To avoid a tight sound on the first one, I use a little trick, I raise my bow on the previous E to enter with a fast bow on the first semiquaver, to give it a wider sound. I’ll show you the two options. First I will play legato, starting from the string and the second time I will lift my bow and enter with a fast one (music) Now I will raise my bow. (music)
In the last big climax after big number 16, we need to lean heavily on the long notes to make the pesante sound and a small detail for the left hand: to perform that E-E octave position change, is to hold your bow back on the low E, I show that (music). I use an abrupt slowing down action of the am on the fourth beat before big number 17 , to perform that sudden pianissimo before the last phrase, the second theme. (music)
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