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Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Suite for Cello, Op. 72 (1964) [22:09]
Second Suite for Cello, Op. 80 (1967) [19:26]
Third Suite for Cello, Op. 87 (1971) [18:17]
Tema ‘Sacher’ (1976) [1:22]
Jamie Walton (cello)
rec. 31 October-2 November 2011, Britten Studio, Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh.

Having recorded the Cello Symphony and the Cello Sonata for Signum Classics, Jamie Walton here concentrates his focus on Britten’s three solo cello suites. He proves a most persuasive and sensitive interpreter, varying his bow weight and colour as the individual movements and moods demand. He is attentive to the dynamic shaping of the multi-movement suites, and characterises them strongly without losing sight of the greater architectures involved, not least in the towering Op.87 work.
Thus he evokes the veiled melancholy of the opening of the First Suite and its ensuing intensity with finely-calibrated control. The Fuga is especially well done, but the pizzicati in the Serenata no less so. Expressive though he is in the Canto terza, there is a determined quality that marks out the concluding movement. The matter of dynamics is especially noticeable in the slow movement of the Op.80 suite where a disquieting sense of incompletion is suggested in the concluding Ciaccona.
I had never thought of that well-worked trope, ‘Orpheus and the Beasts’, in relation to Britten’s suites, but in the Canto of the Third Suite Walton evokes this contrast between abrasive determinism and yielding pliancy with great sensitivity. It seems, in his hands, a microcosmic refraction of the similar moment in the slow movement of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Indeed his playing of this suite, whilst not as richly characterised as that of its dedicatee Rostropovich, is nevertheless very fine indeed. What is especially impressive is that he finds the interrogative nature of the music so well, that he delves deep to the self-questioning of the Passacaglia, for instance. Tema ‘Sacher’ was Britten’s last work composed for a solo instrument, and written in his last year.
Acknowledging that Rostropovich’s are benchmark recordings, Walton’s still pack a real punch. They are more visceral than the recent recording by Antoine Pierlot on Transart TR169. Pierlot doesn’t include the little Tema ‘Sacher’, and is rather more lyrical than Walton’s darker reading of the suites.
Jonathan Woolf
Previous review: Dominy Clements 

Britten discography & review index: Cello suites