Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 2 in G, Op. 126 (1966)
[32:51] Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 68 (1963) [34:36]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Alexander Briger
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 1-2 March 2008. DDD SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD137 [69:33]
Walton brings expressive musing to his solo at the start
of the Shostakovich second concerto yet also some warmth.
The orchestral cellos and basses create a murkier, more solemn
atmosphere, imbibed by the soloist but when he soars beautifully
into upper register (tr. 1 1:03) this is like an infusion
of light and positive statement. The next excursions into
the upper register begin a growingly passionate phase, in
turn followed by pleading, humane, even sunny passages from
4:14 of double stopping, given sufficiently rapt space without
loss of overall flow. This is all finely phrased with the
orchestra and Alexander Briger’s direction integral in conveying
unanimity of approach throughout these mixes and changes
compared the work’s dedicatee, Mstislav Rostropovich in concert
in 1966 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis (BBC
Legends BBCL 4073-2). Here are the comparative timings: the
published bracketed timing includes applause.
opening is more meditative, yearning and growingly heartfelt
once upper register is reached. The movement is more starkly
dramatic, the double stopping more graphic. You feel here’s
a character unfazed by greatly varied experience. But Walton
and Briger more clearly reveal the movement’s architecture.
second movement scherzo is alert and wry. This time when
Walton reaches upper register (tr. 2 0:50) he lets his hair
down more as appropriate to glissandi at the ends
of the phrases. There’s a sardonic relish about all this
and it reaches its zenith with a manically affirmative theme
of narrow range and many repeated notes (2:37). Walton and
Briger make the structure and rhythmic impetus crystal clear.
Rostropovich and Davis, on the other hand, have more fun. Rostropovich
is lighter in tone and manner, while the orchestra is more
showy in its sheer zest.
virtuoso display of the finale’s horns’ opening is followed
by equal bravura from Walton’s cello solo, yet with a suddenly
sunnier lyrical tail (tr. 3 1:58). Jamie then pleasingly
provides a delicate backing to a musing flute solo, backing
which has more ardent shape later to clarinet solo. In the
mean time he’s started off a jaunty march (3:10) whose second
appearance is more abandoned, but the lyrical tail refrain
is a calming influence. The mood becomes more expansive with
a more folksy melody (6:35) to which Walton brings a kind
of carefree wistfulness, but with a more expressive second
appearance and a rugged third time march before becoming
more frenetic altogether. After this pandemonium Jamie richly
and affectionately recalls from 12:47 the first movement
before we’re left with a celebration of just rhythm.
opening solo in the finale is a headier gritty display and
celebration. By contrast he makes the lyrical tail more melting.
His folksy melody is more emotive, with less beauty than
Walton but more of an underlying sadness and sense of heritage
and finely shaded quieter moments, while in the climax Davis
unleashes the orchestra with more ferocity. Jamie’s account,
then, is meticulously fashioned, attractive and engaging,
often with appreciable beauty of tone and admirably explicit
structure. Slava, on the other hand, conveys more character
and sense of experience.
the Shostakovich cello concerto conveys a personality in
different moods, the Britten cello symphony seems more about
a character evolving in response to a dramatic situation.
Walton’s opening is a gritty statement in baleful surroundings
as if born of heroic endeavour, giving way to a more effusive,
febrile manner (tr. 4 1:07), the second element of the opening
material, here graphically realized. The second theme (2:34)
has the solo cello sighing over a backcloth of pizzicato violins
and double basses and cushioned sustained ground bass by
the violas and cellos. Alexander Briger well conveys the
richness and claustrophobic quality of this texture. The
recapitulation (7:44) sees the orchestra with the theme and
soloist with the lugubrious bass, lightening the mood somewhat
until the woodwind screech the second element. The second
theme has more potency when given to violins and violas but
the solo cello eloquently takes it back in pleading upper
register (10:11). In the stately elegiac coda (10:48) the
upper woodwind sing over the soloist’s pizzicato.
compared the 1964 recording by Rostropovich, also this work’s
dedicatee, and the English Chamber Orchestra/Benjamin Britten
opening is more gnarled, Britten’s handling of the orchestra
more sepulchral yet also with more sense of progression.
The second element is more tense but also appealing from
Rostropovich, the second theme more cowed yet with a greater
sense of architecture and continuity than Walton. On the
other hand Jamie gives it more emotion and fullness, the
suffering and sensitivity more overt. His long solo from
4:41 with wind comments at the end of the development is
a clear-eyed yet compelling exploration where Rostropovich
is more introspective. The latter’s return to the second
theme is tender but Walton is sweeter. Britten’s coda has
more mystery and sense of awe than Briger’s.
the exotic scherzo (tr. 5) Walton brings lively, nervous
energy, matched by woodwind playfellows; but the trumpets
and trombone’s punctuating chords seem like a sinister presence
biding its time. Walton enjoys a slower, more cajoling version
of the opening theme (1:00) but the restless orchestral undercurrent
is never far away. The brilliance of the movement is revealed
more than its scary aspects. The crescendi are neatly
controlled, though the sul ponticello strings from
3:21 are chilly enough. Rostropovich’s articulation is more
feathery, the overall impression with Britten’s direction
more shadowy and evanescent, the punctuating chords more
distant. There are occasional flashes of scintillance which
later have a nightmarish quality. Slava’s slower version
of the theme is quieter yet more deeply expressive than Jamie’s.
The Adagio slow
movement is presented by Walton and Briger as an impassioned,
dark elegy. At its centre (tr. 6 2:18) is a plaintive, soulful
melody from the soloist with muted horn as sympathetic companion
and high muted strings’ backing. The opening material returns
in more abrasive form, trombones and later trumpets presenting
the basic melody in stark outline to a mighty climax followed
by the soloist’s cadenza. Walton clearly reveals its mix
of passion and reflection, pizzicato and arco and
all shades of dynamic. The feeling is of a character evolving
before your ears.
Rostropovich/Britten slow movement opens and is in all sterner
passages at higher voltage than Walton/Briger while the central
melody is presented feeling its way at first. So Slava is
more dramatic, Jamie more elegiac and I like the flow and
cohesion of this new account. Jamie’s central melody, even
when presented in relatively gentle and comely manner, has
assurance from the start, anticipating its later bolder appearances
while the horn’s contribution is much clearer. Slava’s slower
cadenza, 3:49 against Jamie’s 3:24, is more incisive in argument
at first and finally more expressive in cantilena, though
Jamie is certainly glowing in the latter section.
finale (tr. 7) is firmly anchored by its passacaglia form
but the trumpet starts it with a jaunty, Copland like version
of the central melody of the slow movement. This is subjected
to variations. The violins have the first, exuberant variation
(0:41), the firsts chasing and almost falling over the seconds.
The soloist has his own gleeful variation (1:22). The woodwind
have an excited chattering one (2:15), the soloist a deft,
perpetual motion one (2:57). Now the magical stillness at
the centre of the Adagio is revisited (3:59) and expanded
in arioso fashion before a majestic version of the theme
is in the glowing coda capped by a grand statement of the
opening Adagio theme. Walton and Briger bring a sense
of exultant transformation.
Rostropovich/Britten finale is more stimulatingly abrasive
in variations 1 and 2, more racy in the third variation while
Rostropovich is more hectic, less fun than Walton in the
fourth. He gets thereby a greater contrast in his pearly
arioso but Walton’s matching of lyricism and emotion here
is at least equally satisfying. Britten achieves a more expansive,
open air coda but Briger’s sense of summation is cogent.
the Shostakovich, the Britten work is cleanly and vividly
presented by Walton and Briger. The Rostropovich accounts
contain more drama and expressive range but Walton is his
own man, offering here fresh performances of both appreciable
concentration and engaging lyricism in recordings of illuminating
clarity and density.
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