Sunday, January 29, 2012

Herbert Murrill : Cello Concerto No 2

I'm not claiming this as a neglected masterpiece, but I am putting it forward as a fine piece of cello music. Murrill is remembered, if at all nowadays, as the composer of an evensong setting that is still commonly sung in Anglican worship. Indeed, I got to know him through my many years of cathedral singing. I had instinctively imagined him as a wrinkly old organist, and this photo of an earnest young man made me realise that old organists were once young too.

Not just that, but I would not have imagined him at work during the war (people my age call World War II "the war") in Bletchley Park, the top-secret intelligence centre that cracked the German and Japanese ciphers and greatly shortened the odds against the allies. In September 1944 ‘Sergeant’ Murrill conducted the Bletchley Park Musical Society in four performances of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Having an eye (and ear) for authenticity, Murrill brought over especially a harpsichord from Cambridge. You can read more about him here

The second cello concerto is subtitled "El cant dels ocells" in homage to Pau Casals, to whom it is dedicated. It was premièred by Murrill's second wife, Vera Canning, at the London Prom concerts in August 1951. 

It's fair to say that it is a work that does not plumb the depths, but instead spreads a picnic tablecloth on the grass and enjoys the birdsong. Raphael Walllfisch does the work proud, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the idiomatic baton of Tod (Vernon) Handley. 

mp3, 192kbs

Download from Rapidshare


  1. It's a good piece. May I ask where the recording came from? Is it a radio broadcast?


  2. It's a BBC recording. Someone clearly likes it in there, because they broadcast it twice in the past year or so!

  3. It's a sweet piece of music,with the catalan song nicely "embedded".Thank you!

  4. Lovely 'English pastoral', never heard of Murrill before, but certainly curious now of what more he has to offer! Thank you for posting this!

  5. I'm afraid that Murrill fans otherwise have to be content with a few short organ pieces and his evensong setting in E. So treasure the concerto. There's no more where that came from, as far as I know

  6. "It's fair to say that it is a work that does not plumb the depths, but instead spreads a picnic tablecloth on the grass and enjoys the birdsong"

    I sometimes wonder if I am listening to the same piece. That statement does not do it justice. Is the first movement not a wonderful passionate outburst? Obviously the birdsong reference is to the Catalan song that Casals played in arrangement for cello and piano. If you look on youtube you will see how seriously he plays this little folksong too

    Before the second movement we hear a semitone motif which sets up the later Phrygian finale - an obvious tribute to Casals' native land.

    Funny though that a picnic was mentioned; Murrill wrote a ballet in 1927 titled, 'The Picnic'.

    Unfortunately I think the recording offered for download could actually be a broadcast of the CD on the Sanctuary White Line Label despite the orchestra names. The actual playing time is the same, so is there any more information about it?