Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
Complete Chamber Works for Cello
Partita for cello and piano, Op.35 (1959) [20:58]
Elegy for cello and piano, Op.5 (1950) [6:43]
Sonata for cello solo, Op.52 (1967) [18:33]
Alleluia Pascha Nostrum for cello and piano, Op.85 (1970) [13:45]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello); Raphael Terroni (piano)
rec. Menuhin Hall, Yehudi Menuhin School, Stoke d’Abernon, Cobham, Surrey, 8 April 2009, 18 February 2010. DDD
BRITISH MUSIC SOCIETY BMS439CD [61:03]
Declaration of interest: I am a life member of the British Music Society (BMS) and am currently editor of the Society’s quarterly newsletter.
If Chandos is the home of the orchestral Leighton (review review review review) then Meridian must be seen as the prime source for the composer’s chamber music (review review review). Restricting ourselves to instrumental music let’s not forget also the Delphian triple CD set from Angela Brownridge (review) and Margaret Fingerhut’s two collections on Chandos (review review review). The present utterly committed performances and excellent recordings of Leighton’s works for cello and piano remind us that we need to cast our nets wider than just those three companies.
Enduring respect, friendships and artist links are reflected in the Leighton performance history and discography. That continues with this disc. Richard Markham was the pianist on the Meridian CD of the Piano Quintet, Piano Trio and Piano Quartet. He broadcast the Piano Concerto No 3 with Nicholas Kraemer conducting the BBC Scottish. Wallfisch’s long-established recording of the Leighton Cello Concerto came out in 1989 when Leighton discs were very rare indeed. He was the cellist in the Finzi-dedicated Veris Gratia recorded in 1986 with George Caird (oboe) on Chandos CHAN 8471 (with the second recording of Finzi Cello Concerto). The Leighton was premiered at the Cheltenham Festival in 1956 with Florence Hooton and was later taken up by Maurice Gendron. Hooton broadcast the Partita in 1963 from the Wigmore Hall. Wallfisch father and son have played a core role in advocating Leighton. Peter Wallfisch performed and broadcast the first two piano concertos with the BBC Scottish; indeed he premiered the first with the composer conducting. Peter also gave broadcast recitals including Leighton’s Fantasia Contrapuntistica and Piano Sonata as well as accompanying Christopher Bunting in the Elegy and de Peyer in Fantasy on an American Hymn Tune. The Wallfisch-Leighton connection is also to be heard on a 1995 Chandos (CHAN 9132: Fantasy on an American Hymn-Tune Op.70 for clarinet, cello and piano, Alleluia Pascha Nostrum Op. 85 for cello and piano, Variations for Piano Op. 3, Piano Sonata - Janet Hilton (clarinet), Peter and Raphael Wallfisch recorded at the Snape Maltings in May 1992).
Turning now to the disc under consideration: The Partita is in three seriously inclined and impassioned movements as if engaged on a lonely pilgrimage across a darkling plain. Rather as with the 1956 Cello Concerto some of this work has a distinctly East European fire. The central Scherzo is an example. The finale is a Theme and Variations. It’s quite magical - starry, at times flamingly emotional yet ends in sidereal Miltonian majesty. The two instruments are primus inter pares - equally imaginative and involving whether Terroni or Wallfisch. In the Leighton catalogue this work was flanked by the 1958 The Light Invisible - Sinfonia Sacra and the Piano Concerto No. 2 of 1960.
The Elegy is the earliest piece here. It dates from after the Symphony for Strings (1950) and before the Veris gratia, for oboe, cello and strings. Struck from the same quarry as Bax’s rhapsodic cello music it also references a Rozsa-like skirling sway. It is an eminently melodic piece with folk accents redolent of the chamber music of Herbert Howells.
The magnificent three movement Sonata for cello solo – here receiving its world-première recording - is from the same year as the Missa brevis for chorus. It belongs in the same company as the equivalent Kodaly Sonata so devastatingly championed in the 1950s by Janos Starker. It smokes with emotion, patters with ruthless determination and grips the listener’s attention. It was premiered by Joan Dickson in Edinburgh in December 1967. Wallfisch, who broadcast it during the 1970s, gives a no holds barred account. Caution is thrown to the winds yet all remains in place.
The last of his works for cello and piano is the Alleluia Pascha Nostrum. It immediately precedes the Concerto for organ, timpani and strings, the Dance Suite No. 2 and the Dance Overture. It was written just after the Piano Concerto No 3, Estivo. The Alleluia was broadcast in 1981 and 1982 by Wallfisch and Richard Markham and was a Wallfisch commission. He has recorded it before (Chandos CHAN 9346). I have not heard that Chandos CD but in its own right this set of Meditations on plainsong melodies from the 12th century Salisbury Chant communicates as serious, desolate, muscular, stonily ringing and urgent.
It’s the half centenary (2011) of Percy Grainger’s death and concerts and recordings abound. I mention it only because one of Leighton’s final works, the Fantasy Octet on themes of Grainger for eight string instruments op 87 (1982, Edinburgh Festival) is on the 1995 Chandos CD (CHAN 9346) of chamber music.
The informed and informing notes are by Adam Binks, the Leighton biographer and lead authority.
This is the third BMS volume to present rare and fine works for cello and piano. The first included the Foulds, Bowen and Walker cellos sonatas from Jo Cole and John Talbot (review). More recently there was the collection of Wordsworth, Holbrooke and Busch on BMS436CD (review). The BMS catalogue also includes a CD (members only) of the composer himself and Colin Kingsley in Leighton’s Sonata for four hands and the Romantic Pieces (review).
Leighton is profiled elsewhere on this site and for more detailed context do have a look at those pages as well as the Kenneth Leighton Trust pages.
Meantime this will be indispensable to fans of Leighton, of British chamber music and of the great artistry of the two Raphaels who have made this disc such a gripping and variegated musical experience.
A gripping and variegated musical experience.