> Celebration - Fiftieth birthday of the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber [RB]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Works for Cello and Orchestra

Joaquín RODRIGO Concierto como un Divertimento
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS Bachoianas Brasileiras No. 5 - aria
Edouard LALO Cello Concerto
David POPPER Gavotte No. 2
Camille SAINT-SAËNS Softly Awakes My Heart
Gabriel FAURÉ Elégie
Manuel de FALLA Ritual Fire Dance
Frederick DELIUS Cello Concerto
Frederick DELIUS Serenade from Hassan
Gustav HOLST Invocation
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIANS Fantasia on Sussex Folk Tunes
J S BACH Arioso
Frank BRIDGE Scherzetto
Joseph CANTELOUBE Baïlero
Max BRUCH Kol Nidrei
Julian Lloyd Webber (cello)
LPO/Jesus Lopez-Cobos (Rodrigo; Lalo)
Philharmonia/Vernon Handley (Delius Concerto, RVW, Holst)
National PO/Charles Gerhardt (the rest)
BMG 74321 84112 2 [CD1 73.09; CD2 75.52]

These two CDs collect together recordings originally made during the period 1980-83.

The Rodrigo is spirited, sharp, vital and fluent - always singing and alive and with no hint academicism. The second movement appears to extol moonlit Mauresque gardens. A lovely ethereal sound captured with fidelity to stage depth and dynamic. This is typical Rodrigo - familiar from Aranjuez and Gentilhombre and to be relished. The cooling pools are given new twist of lime in the finale. The stereo separation is wonderful in the Gerhardt arrangement of the aria from the Villa-Lobos Bachianas.

The emphatically melodramatic Lalo Concerto has the tone of a concerto that would fit as an interlude in a grand French opera such as those by Reyer, Massenet or Saint-Saens. Lloyd Webber summons up, for the andantino, the same soulfully plangent tone on which he also draws to such grand effect in the rather soupy Kol Nidrei and in the sentiment-soaked Softly awakes my heart. By the way BMG it is Camille not Camile. The Bach arioso is done with dignity staying just the right side of the line of least resistance. It is done with great dignity.

Popper's Gavotte is a plaything with which Lloyd Webber gambols. It contrasts with the Fauré Elegie which muses gravely. Lloyd Webber projects with hoarse extroversion in the Ritual Fire Dance investing its every turn and twist with life and freshness - quite an accomplishment in such a warhorse. The Bridge Scherzetto is one of the three cello and pieces orchestrated by Francis Cornford. The initial vigour goes into remission in face of some sentimental poesy. Speaking of which we come to Canteloube's Baïlero. Here Lloyd Webber's sustained tone is all autumn gold and soft contours. This is superbly accomplished stuff and Gerhardt is sensitive and supportive in weaving a glimmering orchestral web.

The second CD includes almost an hour of British music. He has made sturdily imaginative, considered and perceptive recordings of the Stanford Cello Sonata No 2, the Delius Sonata and for Lyrita (still LP-bound I'm afraid) the Frank Bridge Oration. It is no surprise then to find Lloyd Webber singing his way through the single movement Delius Concerto. Fenby's arrangement of the Serenade from Hassan is done with a smoother Delian spirit by Gerhardt with the National Philharmonic. Handley whose Eventyr and North Country Sketches are excellent seemed not to have come fully to terms with the yielding poetry of the Cello Concerto. By the way the notes say that Hassan is the stage production of James Elroy Flecker's poem The Golden Road to Samarkand. It isn't. The Golden Road is a poem which forms part of the Flecker stage play Hassan which tells an Arabian tale of cruelty, love and illusions.

The Holst Invocation was revived specially for the original 1979 recording alongside the RVW and the Delius Concerto. It is luminously orchestrated and while it has the songful fragrance of the potted palms of the grand hotel and of Dvorak it also reaches modestly out towards the more ethereal realms of The Ode to Death and Neptune. While Wagnerian rainbows shimmer so do the mysteries Holst was to unlock in later years. This is extremely well done by all concerned.

Starting as if it has escaped from Holst's Beni Mora the Sussex Folk Fantasia only gradually settles into a style we associate with Vaughan Williams. Perhaps it is that we are unused to RVW and the solo cello. And my how Lloyd Webber makes the instrument sing and call. The piece was written for Casals who premiered it at the Queen's Hall on 13 March 1930. Barbirolli conducted the concert which was for the occasion of the presentation of the Royal Philharmonic Society's Gold Medal. The jauntiness reminded me of the Tunning of Elinor Rumming from Five Tudor Portraits as well as, and surprising this, Aaron Copland. Vaughan Williams intended a full length cello concerto but this, rather like the opera Tom the Rhymer, was to remain an unfulfilled project when death intervened in 1958.

The Popper, Saint-Saens and Bach are in arrangements by the conductor, the late Charles Gerhardt.

The notes variously by the soloist, Ursula Vaughan Williams, Eric Fenby, David Matthews and Imogen Holst are one of the legion strengths of this release.

Allowing for my reservations about the Delius Concerto this is a truly lovely collection that proclaims a master cellist as adept, sensitive and enthusiastic about the etincellante and operatic as about the quiet singer - fluent and direct speaking - no musicians' musician but someone engaged with his audience. I must not forget to mention the orchestral contribution which is unfailingly alert, varied and sensitive to mood and nuance. Recommended. I am only sorry I did not pick up this release earlier.

Rob Barnett

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