A CD of cello music by the three Bs. And not any old three Bs,
but three English Bs. It’s an apt coupling for all three
composers were, in some ways, outsiders in their own time.
Frank Bridge’s Sonata was written in the romantic
style he employed before the First World War, after which his
style radicalised and became more elusive, aphoristic and, some
would say, difficult - hence his being an outsider. This latter
isn’t true and we can now understand his later music simply
because, through recordings, we are able to assess his complete
output. In two big movements, the second being both slow movement
and finale, Bridge’s Sonata is brim full of tunes,
welded to a glorious singing line for the cello. Moser allows
himself time to relish the lyricism of the work, and he muses
and sings to perfection. He obviously has a deep understanding
of the work and it shows, for his command of the piece is second
Bridge’s pupil, Benjamin Britten is credited with being
the man who really put England back on the musical map. This
isn’t totally true, there was much before him to do that,
but perhaps it was Britten who brought English music to the
world at large. His Cello Sonata was the first of five
works he wrote for Mstislav Rostropovich. It’s a mysterious
piece, starting with a very nervous and seemingly uncertain
Dialogo. But nothing about Britten’s compositions
can be said to be uncertain and his grip on the uneasiness of
his material is masterly; a satisfying whole being made out
of whispered secrets. The pizzicato Scherzo is jumpy
and uncomfortable, with, perhaps, a slight sense of panic behind
the seeming playful façade. Elegia is the heart
of the work, with a bold climax and distant musings on the horizon.
The final two movements change attitude. The fourth, a March,
is grotesque and angular, whilst the final Moto perpetuo
is a real headlong rush, the like of which is unusual in Britten’s
music. As with the Bridge, Moser is very secure here, especially
in the slow movement, which has a quiet authority.
It’s hard for any cellist who chooses to play these two
works, let alone record them, for they were both recorded by
Rostropovich with Britten at the piano. Their performance of
the Bridge is available on Decca 4435752 (coupled with Schubert’s
Arpeggione Sonata) and the Britten Sonata is available
on Decca 4218592 (coupled with the first two Solo Cello Suites).
Anyone interested in Britten will already have these, I am sure,
and, on no account must they be missed, but Moser’s interpretations
come very close to the very high standard set by Rostropovich.
Bax was an outsider because of his being, in his own words,
“a brazen romantic”, refusing to go the neo-classical
and modernist way of so many of his contemporaries. This Legend-Sonata
is a very late work - written only a few years before his death
and at a time when his music had fallen from the full favour
of the public and performers. This Sonata is free in
form, displays some of the Celtic Twilight attitude which can
be found in many of his works, and is light and delightful;
there are no depths to be plumbed here. Moser gives a nicely
understated performance, pointing the lyricism, for it is a
tuneful piece, and allowing it to please.
This is a real find of an issue of English music. Moser and
Rivinius make a fine duo partnership - and it is a partnership
not a soloist with accompanist. The recording is very nicely
balanced, and the notes are good. It’s reassuring to hear
great English music played so well by non-English musicians.
Perhaps the word is getting round that English music really
can be as good as it sounds! Don’t miss this, it’s
a very special issue, and I, for one, welcome it with open ears.