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Corinne Morris’s debut concerto recording is a landmark in a career already shaped by extraordinary talent and remarkable determination.
A 24-bit 192 kHz studio master for this album is available from the Linn Records website.
Corinne Morris Haydn is the arrival point on this musical journey, with Couperin—in the Baroque style—being the start, and Monn occupying the short transitional period between both eras. So when we arrive at Haydn we’re well established in the Classical period. Of course, there’s no rigid wall between different styles: it doesn’t make sense to me to say that if you play in a Baroque style you can’t play Classical or even Romantic repertoire, or vice versa, or that if you play Romantic music you can’t go back into earlier styles.
James Jolly So where do you sit in regard to this repertoire and its stylistic demands?
CM I don’t consider myself a ‘Baroque performer’. A musician, I believe, has to be comfortable and understand the musical language and stylistic requirements of each era. When you understand and perform Baroque music, even if you don’t do it on period instruments (which I don’t), it still makes you approach later music in a different way. So the journey on this recording really starts in the Baroque. The version of the Couperin that we’ve chosen here has been arranged by a famous French cellist and teacher, Paul Bazelaire (1886-1958), who—typically for the time—allowed himself certain liberties, but I do think that the Couperin pieces are interesting in these transcriptions. And I grew up listening to them played by Pierre Fournier, for whom they were transcribed, so there’s a personal preference to my choosing them.
JJ When you’re using a modern instrument with a modern orchestra, albeit an incredibly flexible and adaptable modern orchestra, do you have to take a decision as to how far you’re going to go towards some kind of authenticity?
CM Absolutely. And the line is not clear at all. Where do we stop? How do we apply ornamentation? Talking about sound production, how far can we go with the modern tools that we have (the modern bow doesn’t allow us to do certain things that the Baroque would)? And the strings we play on are going to affect the sound in a huge way. I feel that we don’t live in that era anymore and we’ve moved on. So while it’s interesting to hear sounds as they heard them back then—with their different pitch—I still think there’s a need for us ‘modern players’ to interpret it in the light of everything that’s happened since, going back in time with today’s tools and all our understanding, as well as the knowledge of the evolution that has taken place since. You can’t erase that.
JJ So, is that why you chose the Scottish Chamber Orchestra for this recording?
CM Yes, I like their versatility, and I was looking for a chamber orchestra that was open for a project like this, and they certainly were, and keen, from the start. It was interesting to work with Stephanie Gonley, who was leading the orchestra. She’s done a fair amount of Baroque work, and we got on very well in the sense of gauging a style for this music—we adapted the vibrato, and coloured ornamentation in a meaningful way, and there was a good rapport between the orchestra and myself. Establishing from the start that we’re not a Baroque band meant that we couldn’t go any further down that path, because that would draw in questions of pitch, strings and the rest of it. So we went as far as we could with the tools that we were using, knowing that you can only go so far with the modern set-up before it becomes a sort of pastiche, or falls between two playing styles—the modern and the Baroque. I hope we struck a good balance.
JJ And no conductor?
CM That was one of my wishes from the start—to have this project without a conductor—not because I don’t like them(!) but because I feel this music’s essence is fundamentally chamber music and, although the input of a conductor could have been very rewarding, it would have changed the dynamics of the group. I was keen for us to work as a chamber-music group does, discussing, elaborating and coming to a stylistic agreement. Artistically it was important to me that we do it like that because I wanted to keep us all using our ears, so that the ensemble playing remained really tight. When we performed in concert we formed a semi-circle and I was in the middle, which was lovely—and that’s how we recorded too. It felt good to be surrounded by the orchestra, and having the violins on either side gave it a stereo effect for me. That was especially noticeable in the Monn where there’s a lot of dialogue between first and second violins, and I heard it in a way that I’d never heard it before.
JJ It’s always struck me as magical that for years the D major concerto was ‘the’ Haydn concerto but when the C major was discovered in 1961 a major work was added to the cello concerto repertoire overnight. And it was immediately embraced by players.
CM Yes, it’s extraordinary how the manuscript just appeared. I know a lot of people questioned its authenticity back then—actually when I was recording it there were moments when I too was wondering if it were genuine Haydn, but then it’s got to be! It’s so different to the D major work, which dates from some 20 years later. But this C major concerto is early Haydn, and that’s why I wanted it to end this journey. I felt that the Monn concerto would lead the listener so well into early Haydn. Monn was already transforming things in his own writing, and developing sonata form. Haydn then picked up some of that and developed it further himself afterwards. When you put these two concertos side by side you can feel a real sense of one handing on to the other.
JJ Do you feel a development in the way the composers actually used the cello as this programme moves forward in time?
CM If I think of other composers of the time—someone like Boccherini, who was a cellist—I’m not sure that the use of the instrument changed so dramatically. Haydn obviously was writing for a fine player and he knew what he could make him do. I think that the first big change for cellists comes later on in the Romantic period. The use of fast passagework, typical of this earlier repertoire—both Classical and Baroque—is quite similar. Perhaps the expressivity of the thematic work is more pronounced in the Haydn concerto. It’s more expanded: the ideas are there with Couperin and Monn, but Haydn develops them further in terms of the thematic expression.
JJ Let’s talk about Georg Matthias Monn, who is best known for two cello concertos: one that Arnold Schoenberg made for Pablo Casals from a harpsichord concerto, and the one you’ve recorded here, but which is usually performed in Schoenberg’s realization.
CM When I was trying to assemble a programme to record, I was looking for a work that would lead up to the early Haydn. I toyed with music by Leopold Hoffmann but I really love this Monn and thought it would work very nicely. I remember hearing the famous Jacqueline Du Pré recording, which is of Schoenberg’s version. But then I found an edition that was far ‘purer’ than the Schoenberg, basically just Monn’s notes, and that’s what I decided to go for, partly in a desire to be more stylistically correct.
JJ And the Couperin pieces?
CM There was quite a strong tradition in France of taking Baroque music and re-arranging it for a twentieth-century audience, albeit in a rather nineteenth-century performing style—both J C Bach and Boccherini received this treatment. Paul Bazelaire selected some numbers from Couperin’s Les Goûts-réunis to make a suite and then essentially harmonized them based on the figured bass of the manuscript—which is where you step away from ‘pure’ authenticity, but I believe you can still make something credible. They are a lovely set of pieces if you respect the style and tempi of that period. When we were recording them there were mixed feelings as to whether we should go full out and do it in a nineteenth-century style with luscious vibrato and sound, but I was keen to tame the ‘excesses’ and produce something in keeping with the stylistic demands of the original. After we’d finished recording I think we agreed that was the right decision.
JJ You can trace your musical lineage to Paul Tortelier, so would you consider yourself a cellist in the French tradition?
CM I think the concept of cello schools that used to be very strong—Russian or French or American, where you could identify players easily—is somewhat disappearing as we become more connected and therefore more open to other influences. So although I would say that, yes, I am from that school, I’ve already been ‘influenced’ (in a good way) by other ways of playing. But I think I have developed my own way, too. I did also work a little bit with Rostropovich and that, coming from my musical upbringing, was quite a cultural shock. There was an intensity to his sound, not only in the bow, but in the left-hand vibrato, that was always present. Whether he was playing Bach or Prokofiev, the intensity was very similar. For me this intensity in the sound works for the Romantic repertoire and later, but not in Bach. In a very different way, Tortelier was the same. The language and outcome was totally different, but there was a power and ability to communicate that felt like it was coming from deep inside his soul.
JJ This recording marks your return to playing after an eight-year pause brought about by a shoulder injury, and it also marks a reunion with your cello …
CM Having to sell my cello during that long period because I just couldn’t keep up with the payments was one of the worst things—it felt so final. It was bad enough having to cancel all my concerts and being in such pain, but having to part with the cello was truly terrible for me. However, there’s a beautiful story of it coming back to me. After my therapy and when I was looking to get going again I needed a cello. So I started looking for an instrument that I could borrow. I made some phone calls and got in touch with the luthier in France where I’d sold my cello. I explained what had happened to me and he told me that he knew the person who had bought my instrument. ‘He’s an investor in Paris and he lends out his instruments to prominent musicians. I’ll put you in touch—go and see him.’ I did, and told him my story. He lends his instruments to players with big careers and I was essentially starting again from nowhere. He told me that ‘my cello’ had just returned from being on loan for the last six years. ‘But after hearing your story and everything you’ve been through,’ he said, ‘this cello really does belong with you, even if not to you’. So I got my cello back! I never thought I’d see this instrument again. My best friend had just returned into my life …
James Jolly is a writer, broadcaster and the editor-in-chief of Gramophone
Linn Records © 2017
And I …? Well I changed during my enforced time away due to injury. I suffered, but I grew; my playing eventually came back and was able to articulate some of the new understandings I had been shown. There was also a new energy, the same kind of underlying energy that propels all the works on this album. I’m the same; I’m different. So I feel a particular kinship to these works, and to that evocative word, ‘chrysalis’.
An artist is nothing without an audience—similarly, a musician cannot flourish without support and nurturing. I am immensely grateful to all who have contributed in helping me become who I am today, and to those who stand by me as I re-emerge on the musical scene.
With special thanks to: Adam Greenwood-Byrne, Rita Gregory, Susan and Peter Haisman, Annie Lynn, Anne Furneaux and William Morton, Rod Marten and Howard Shepherdson, Fanny Schulman, Scott Yarwood.
Corinne Morris © 2017