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William WALTON (1902-1983)
Cello Concerto* (1956) [31:01]
Ernest BLOCH (1894-1959)
Suite No. 1 for solo cello (1956-57) [11:57]
György LIGETI (1923-2006)
Sonata for solo cello (1948 and 1953) [8:17]
William WALTON (1902-1983)
Passacaglia for solo cello (1979-80) [6:59]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Ciaccona, from Suite No. 2 for solo cello, Op. 80 (1967) [7:02]
Pieter Wispelwey (cello)
Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Jeffrey Tate*
rec. August 2007, Sydney Opera House, Australia (concerto) and August 2008, Onder de Linden, Valthermond, Holland (solo cello works). DDD

Experience Classicsonline



This release from renowned cellist Pieter Wispelwey is a disc of two halves. The first half is Australian as Wispelwey recorded Walton’s Cello Concerto in 2007 during live concerts at the Sydney Opera House. The second half of the disc is European with studio recordings of four works for solo cello made in 2008 at Valthermond in Holland. For the Walton Wispelwey plays his usual 1760 Giovanni Battista Guadagnini cello. The solo cello works were recorded by Wispelwey on an 1698 ‘Magg’ Stradivarius.

Pieter Wispelwey has long been associated with Channel Classics and this recording of cello music from the middle of the 20th century is his first for Onyx. The feature work is the William Walton Cello Concerto written in 1956 commissioned by and dedicated to Gregor Piatigorsky the famous Russian soloist. It was Piatigorsky who premièred the score in 1957 at Boston with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Charles Munch. Piatigorsky’s 1957 recording under Munch with the same forces is an evergreen performance by which all other versions are judged: RCA Living Stereo 09026-61498-2 and RCA 66375 SA (SACD) (c/w Dvořák Cello Concerto). This is Wispelwey’s first recording of the score and it was made with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Jeffrey Tate. The recording was made with the applause omitted at live concerts for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in August 2007 at the Sydney Opera House, Australia.

In the opening movement Moderato Wispelwey captures the atmosphere of mystery and dark foreboding superbly. I loved the meltingly beautiful closing section. The impressive central movement is vigorous and headstrong. Here the only respite is at 4:37-5:39 where Wispelwey develops the mood to one of yeaning melancholy. The fifteen minute final movement is in effect a slow movement and six improvisations. After the first cadenza-like section for solo cello from 7:01 the short but effective orchestral outburst comes as a welcome respite from the tension and bleakness of the writing. A second section for solo cello occupies a similar mood of apprehension and desolation as before. From 10:45 the orchestra return followed by the glorious cello writing of sun and warmth.

Ernest Bloch was born in Geneva, Switzerland and became an American citizen in 1924. The Suite No. 1 is the first of his three Suites for solo cello and was written in 1956-57 for Zara Nelsova in the State of Oregon. Wispelwey navigates his way through Bloch’s often dense and austere sound-world in this four movement Suite. The Prelude has a dark and sinister character followed by the first Allegro of a quasi-devotional nature that contains the most obvious quotation from the Prelude of Bach’s Cello Suite No.1. Wispelwey conveys a sad and yearning quality to the third movement Canzona and the final movement Allegro is performed with vigour and determination.

György Ligeti’s Sonata for solo cello is cast in two movements the first written in 1948 and the second in 1953. Owing to its second movement, that had been described as ‘formalist’, the Soviet-controlled régime in Hungary allowed the Sonata to be broadcast on radio only once. The Hungarian authorities would not allow the Sonata to be performed in public.

The first movement is cool and meditative with the exception at 2:29 where the mood alters to one of yearning with strains of a folk-like melody. Virtuosic and dazzling flurries of notes dominate the second movement with brief episodes of relative respite. The Sonata concludes with a frenzied display of virtuosity that the assured Wispelwey takes in his stride.

I remain impressed with David Geringas’s 2002 Berlin performance of the Ligeti. It’s on Teldec Classics 8573-88262-2.

The second score by Walton is his Passacaglia for solo cello. This was composed in 1979-80, a product of his close friendship with Mstislav Rostropovich, the renowned Russian cellist and conductor. Rostropovich premièred the score at Walton’s 80th birthday celebrations in 1982 at London’s Festival Hall.

The Passacaglia is essentially an eight bar theme played Lento espressivo followed by ten variations. Rich in introspection and mystery the score has a predominantly dark coloration containing considerable emotional tension. At 5:44 Wispelwey conveys a mood of scurrying combined with a sense of searching. An angry torrent of passion at 6:25 brings proceedings to a close.

An even closer friendship with Rostropovich was that forged by Benjamin Britten. Britten composed several works for Rostropovich including the five movement Suite No. 2 for solo cello, Op. 80 from 1967. The cellist premièred it at the 1968 Aldeburgh Festival at Snape Maltings. On this release Pieter Wispelwey has chosen to perform the fifth movement – the Ciaccona. In the opening section the music travels forward with considerable determination. At 2:41-4:37 the mood shifts to one that is emotionally cool and distant.

The sound on this Hyperion disc is to a high standard. The live recording from the Sydney Opera House, with applause omitted, is clear and well balanced. From the recording studio at the Onder de Linden in Valthermond the solo cello scores are closely caught and vividly clear. Pieter Wispelwey is a consummate performer and this - his debut disc for Onyx - would make a welcome addition to any collection of cello music.
Michael Cookson


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