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The Solitary Cello
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Sonata Op.8 for Cello Solo [30.47]
Henri DUTILLEUX (1916-2013)
3 Strophes Sur Le Nom de Sacher for Solo Cello [9.34]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1911-1976)
Suite for Cello No. 1 Op.72 [23.44]
Oren Shevlin (cello)
rec. St Bartholomew's, Brighton, UK, 2000
CLAUDIO RECORDS CC5046-2 [64.07]

This is a judiciously chosen group of 20th Century masterworks for solo cello. The Kodály is considered by some the greatest piece of the century with comparisons made to Bach's Suites, thus there are many recordings. Britten's three Cello Suites were all written for Rostropovich, the first two having been recorded by him. The Dutilleux has also been recorded many times. This is a crowded field but no one else has recorded the Kodály and Britten in particular together on one disc.

Kodály composed his Sonata in 1915. It is a large scale three movement piece lasting over half an hour and some consider it the composer's greatest masterpiece. It has been championed in particular by János Starker whose performances Kodály himself regarded as virtually definitive. That has not stopped many another cellist adding it to their repertoire. Shevlin does not convey quite that amount of fantasy in his performance but it is played with consummate skill and huge power. It is worth the price of the disc alone, but there is so much more on this CD. The Britten Suite Op.78 is also given a weighty performance and its 23 minutes or so passes very quickly as Shevlin follows the composer's myriad changes of mood. I found more of a conversational quality in Rostropovich's Decca recording, as if he was playing two cellos both debating the minutiae of this fascinating work, but there is room for more than one view and Shevlin shows himself to be a leading interpreter along with many other more famous names. Even in the more impressionistic writing of Henri Dutilleux he shows a firm grasp of structure and the dense argument is sufficiently clear to make the Three Strophes a welcome addition. He plays this whole programme with extreme accuracy of both pitch and phrasing and with the richest tone. Make no mistake, this is a superb recital.

Oren Shevlin was a new name to me and at the time this recording was made (Autumn 2000) he was only just starting his ongoing commitment as principal cellist in the WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cologne, possibly the leading German radio orchestra. At the time of writing he has served no less than two decades in the role with regular forays into solo and chamber music and with a particular bias towards 20th century repertoire.

Shevlin was apparently loaned the Stradivari cello of 1696 "Ex-Prince Gursky" on the understanding he would record with it. I am told he arrived at the Brighton church having walked from the station carrying this Ł2 million instrument and worked intensively over the next two days. The results are remarkable, the cello clearly excites the spacious acoustic of St Bartholomew's, making for a very realistic, almost surround effect. The recording is just in stereo and is presented here as it was mastered at CD quality (16bit, 44.1 kHz). I mention this because most Claudio issues come in high resolution, 24 bit, versions as well as plain CD. Not this one. The notes are detailed and a very useful guide to this complex music.

Dave Billinge
Previous review: Des Hutchinson


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