And the Bridge is Love Edward ELGAR (1857–1934) Introduction and Allegro for Strings, Op.47 (1905) [13:59] Sospiri, Op.70 (1914) [5:11] William LLOYD WEBBER (1914–1982) The Moon (1950)† [4:31] Howard GOODALL (b. 1958) And the Bridge is Love (2008)†* [11:31] Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872–1958) The Charterhouse Suite: No.1 Prelude (1923) [1:42] Edward ELGAR Serenade for Strings in e minor, Op.20 (1892) [11:39] Frederick DELIUS (1862–1934) Two Aquarelles (arr. E. Fenby) (1917/1932) [2:02 + 1:55] Edward ELGAR Chanson de nuit (arr. W.H. Reed)
(1897/1939)* [4:28] Chanson de matin (arr. W.H. Reed) (1899/1939)* [3:15] William WALTON (1902–1983) Two Pieces for Strings from Henry V (1944) [4:54] John IRELAND (1879–1962) A Downland Suite: No.3 Minuet (1942) [4:44]
English Chamber Orchestra/Julian Lloyd Webber (cello)*
rec. Watford Colosseum, Watford, Hertfordshire, 2014. DDD
†World Première Recording NAXOS 8.573250 [70:07]
This CD represents a first and a last. It is Julian Lloyd Webber’s first disc as a conductor but, sadly, it is also his last as a solo cellist because he has now had to end his distinguished career as a cellist due to health issues.
His envoi as a cellist is the piece by Howard Goodall which gives the album its title. Goodall wrote this piece for cello and string orchestra with harp in 2008. It was written in memory of Hannah Ryan, the cellist daughter of close family friends of Goodall, who died at a tragically young age in 2007. The title is taken from a book, The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder. The book is, in Goodall’s words, “a parable of the struggle to find meaning in chance and in inexplicable tragedy.” The piece exploits the cello’s capacity for songful melancholy. The soloist’s material is almost exclusively lyrical with the accompaniment mainly delicate and deliberately uncomplicated. Much of the piece is in a gentle vein and it forms a touching tribute. It seems to me to offer further evidence of Howard Goodall’s ability to communicate effectively with an audience, whether through his own music or when speaking about music more generally.
Elgar’s music features prominently in the programme. Perhaps that’s not surprising when one considers that throughout his career as a cellist Julian Lloyd Webber displayed empathy for Elgar’s music in his performances of the Cello Concerto. He leads a spirited performance of the Introduction and Allegro. He may not quite match the achievement of Sir John Barbirolli – another cellist turned conductor – in this piece (review) but his account of it is very enjoyable nonetheless. He also offers a cultivated reading of the Serenade, a piece which the ECO must have played countless times but which still sounds fresh here. Incidentally, as proof that one can always learn something, I was very interested to read in the useful notes by Peter Avis that the first professional performance of the Serenade, in 1896, was given, not in Britain, as I would have expected, but in Antwerp. I also enjoyed very much Lloyd Webber’s performance of Chanson de matin. This is light – or at least lighter – music but it’s a very superior example of the genre. There’s a family link here because Peter Avis points out that Lloyd Webber’s mother was a sometime pupil of W. H. ‘Billy’ Reed.
Family connections are more explicit through the inclusion of The Moon by Julian Lloyd Webber’s father. Apparently this was originally a part-song, written by William Lloyd Webber in 1950. He made the present arrangement for string orchestra shortly afterwards but it remained unperformed until his centenary year, 2014. I’ve heard a few works by William Lloyd Webber on disc in recent years and have enjoyed what I’ve heard. This piece can be added to that list of pleasing discoveries. It’s a charming miniature and it’s given here in a sensitive performance. I’m glad that Julian Lloyd Webber has included this little tribute to his father.
The Delius pieces are nicely done and Walton’s two fine miniatures from his excellent music for the film of Henry V are played with no little poetry. It’s hard to avoid the feeling that the short pieces by Vaughan Williams and Ireland are included to make up the numbers – the former in particular – but the Ireland piece is a most effective arrangement of music originally composed for brass band.
This is a very enjoyable anthology. I don’t know how much conducting Julian Lloyd Webber had done prior to this assignment but he obtains good and responsive playing from the ECO. It was a shrewd move to make a recording debut with music for strings, an idiom to which he clearly brings a practitioner’s understanding. All music-lovers will have been saddened by his enforced retirement as a cellist. However, it’s clear both from this recorded debut as a conductor and his recent appointment as Principal of Birmingham Conservatoire that we certainly have not seen the last of Julian Lloyd Webber. That can only be a good thing.