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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Cello Concerto in E minor op.85 (1919) [27:59]
Nikolai MYASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Cello Concerto in C minor Op.66 (1944) [26:58]
Jamie Walton (cello)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Alexander Briger
rec. Henry Wood Hall,
London, September 2006
Experience Classicsonline

Comparative Recordings:

ELGAR Natalie Clein (cello) Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley EMI CLASSICS 5014092

MYASKOVSKY Mstislav Rostropovich (cello) Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Kyrill Kondrashin BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92771

What a change has overcome Elgar’s elegiac Cello Concerto! From the awful under-rehearsed first performance - with a certain John Barbirolli in the cellos - it has become an acknowledged masterpiece. Also in the past forty years new performances have had to contend with comparison with Jacqueline du Pré whose most famous recording is available in several forms, notably as a GROC.  Since then there has been a steady stream of recordings of which I particularly like Robert Cohen (CFP) recorded when he was an emerging cellist like Jamie Walton. However, last year’s recording by Natalie Clein seems to me one of the great performances. Yes, it has a lot of emotion, a risqué cover and too many fillers but what feeling and playing together with glorious sound and superb conducting by Vernon Handley! This was one of the standouts of 2007 although I also greatly enjoyed Paul Watkins’ rendition at the First Night of the Proms. 

Anyway, despite at least ten recordings, I was encouraged by Jonathan Woolf’s review to try this new version. The first two movements left me little cold and uninvolved which is unusual in this piece; fine playing but a little restrained. Things got better in the Adagio although I don’t think the recording helps Walton’s tone and the orchestra seems a little detached. I'm not suggesting that this piece must be played “heart on sleeve” but I didn’t feel caught up; very competent but not more than that for me. The Allegro had good things but when compared to Natalie Clein’s version it didn’t seem as organic or as satisfying. Of course the EMI recording has Tod Handley who like Barbirolli before him is steeped in this music and must have been a great aide to Natalie Clein. The RLPO also sound a better band here than the Philharmonia whose performance is a touch routine. 

The bonus on this Signum CD is that we get another concerto rather than the tit-bits on EMI. 

The Myaskovsky was new to me although I compared a version by Rostropovich in one of those Brilliant Russian boxes; you can either get as reviewed above or in a set of 100 CDs! This is well worth hearing and Jamie Walton is a good advocate for its charms which do remind me at times of the Elgar. Rather than a eulogy for the “Great War” and the end of life as Elgar knew it, Myaskovsky’s work was in lament but also relief in 1945 to the end of WW2. Jamie Walton’s playing seems very alluring during the Allegro Vivace with its Russian themes and generally everyone seems more relaxed in this piece. Rostropovich made his live recording in 1972 and is heartfelt and also very well accompanied but does have coughing in places! Hearing this has made me order Slava’s EMI recording under Sargent! 

For a good modern recording Walton is fine and made me feel he’d perhaps have been better advised to choose a lesser known piece as coupling. Also, for a full price disc 54 minutes is a bit stingy! 

To conclude, it should be obvious that for the Elgar I much prefer the Clein and feel that for the Elgar Jamie Walton wasn’t quite ready to record. Could this be why it’s taken 18 months to come out? There are signs of great promise here and I’m looking forward to his next recording where it is to be hoped that he will feel more comfortable and, dare I say it, have more sympathetic support and sound. 

David R Dunsmore

see also Review by Jonathan Woolf





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