The Times March 6th 2008
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra / Wit at Cadogan Hall
“…Lloyd-Webber psyched himself up for a wild and woody entry. He ensured that the first movement’s great song was elegantly, lightly breathed, as was his loose-limbed playing in the slow movement, and his admirably fluid accompaniment to the orchestra’s winsome woodwind serenading.”
The Mail on Sunday 15th April 2001
For he’s a jolly good cello…
Julian Lloyd Webber was 50 yesterday, a fitting moment to pay tribute to an outstanding artist and one of music’s nicest and most approachable of men. He recognises no musical barriers and effortlessly straddles the divide between popular and serious that cuts off so many others from their audience.
His next album will be arrangements of his brother’s most memorable melodies. But that same Julian Lloyd Webber is touring north of the border this week, giving the world premiere of a notably uncompromising piece by Scotland’s most promising serious composer, James MacMillan, his Cello Sonata No 2.
Julian has never despised a good tune and throughout his career has either made himself or commissioned from others arrangements of great melodies from opera or the repertoire of other instruments. He reasons: why should the devil have all the good tunes when the cello always sounds the noblest of the lot? And few make it sound more beautiful than Julian on his Stradivarius.
So, on his discs, Gounod’s ‘Ave Maria’ and Bach’s ‘Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring’ rub shoulders with an award-winning Elgar Cello Concerto, while ‘Softly Awake My Heart’ from Samson And Delilah sits comfortably alongside the world premiere recording of the Cello Concerto the great Rodrigo himself wrote for Julian in 1982.
Julian has made more than 50 world premiere recordings, pushing out the boundaries of the cello repertoire in all directions. Michael Nyman wrote a concerto for cello and saxophone for him, while Gavin Bryars achieved considerable kudos from his concerto for Julian, ‘ Farewell To Philosophy’.
Julian’s discography is a long one, so let me pull out two plums. The recordings he made for RCA in the early Eighties have been gathered together in a twofer. Celebration, in honour of his birthday and include, as well as the Rodrigo recording, some outstanding English music: Delius’s Concerto, an unjustly neglected piece, and Holst’s Invocation, which is heard today solely because of Julian’s efforts.
Philips started recording him in 1984 and some of the finest fruits of his labours for them have been put on to an inexpensive two-CD set entitled Favourite Cello Concertos. Here his outstanding Elgar, with Yehudi Menuhin conducting, is coupled with a particularly fine account of the Dvorak Concerto recorded in Prague with the Czech Philharmonic.
There is the original version of Tchaikovsky’s lovable Rococo Variations and a stunning Saint-Saens First Concerto with the son of another cellist, Yan Pascal Tortelier, on the podium. This recording more than any other shows Julian at his absolute best. Every nuance has been digested and rehearsed, so what you get is a remarkably detailed reading, with all sorts of things you do not hear elsewhere making their impression, without damaging the overall sweep of this commanding work.
Julian has never taken his fame for granted and practises several hours a day. When he started there were some who suggested he was benefiting from the Lloyd Webber name. I am equally certain that the name has often inhibited recognition of just how special he is.
Why not judge for yourselves, not just from the discs, but from a celebratory concert to be given by Julian and his brother at the Royal Albert Hall on June 1, when they will play in public for the first time music from the forthcoming Julian Plays Andrew CD. Tickets are reasonably priced and the cause, the Prince’s Trust, is a worthwhile one. I’m not missing it. Neither should you.
Gramophone April 1999
Favourite Cello Concertos
Julian Lloyd Webber (vc) with various artists.
A first-class package in every way. As we know from his live performances, Julian Lloyd Webber has a firm, richly coloured and full-focused tone; moreover it records well. His lyrical warmth projects tellingly over the entire range and his involvement in the music communicates consistently and tellingly. He has chosen his accompanists well too. His account of the great Dvorak concerto is full of passionate feeling, with a tender Adagio, and Neumann and the Czech Philharmonic give him thoroughly persuasive backing, playing with plenty of bite in tuttis, the Slavonic exuberance always to the fore. His performance of the Elgar concerto has the huge advantage of Lord Menuhin as his partner, a true Elgarian if ever there was one. It is a performance of real understanding and rare intensity, which never oversteps the work’s emotional boundaries and is imbued with innate nostalgia: the Adagio has a haunting Elysian stillness. The Saint-Saens is played for the splendid bravura war-horse that it is, and we are also given a rare chance to hear the original, uncut version of Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations. Lloyd Webber soon proves that it is superior to the truncated version used in most other recordings; moreover his spontaneous warmth in Tchaikovsky’s long-drawn lyrical lines, which he makes sound very Russian in character, makes a perfect foil for the sparkling virtuosity elsewhere.
Among the encores the lovely Traumerei stands out for its freely improvisational feeling and Lloyd Webber’s own catchy, slight but romantic personal tribute to Jacqueline du Pre is played as an ardent, tuneful and timely postscript.
Daily Mail 26th March 1999
FAVOURITE CELLO CONCERTOS
(Philips 462 505-2, two CDs)
I PREFER Julian Lloyd Webber’s Elgar Cello Concerto to Jacqueline Du Pre’s. And you can now get his noble performance without having Menuhin’s anaemic Enigma Variations, because it has been re-issued in a set of cello concertos. I have a soft spot for JLW’s Dvorak Concerto, too, and it is also now in better company than on its original CD. The other main works here are Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations and Saint-Saens’s A minor Concerto. The package also includes shorter works including Faure’s Elegie and Saint-Saens’s Allegro Appassionato and The Swan. The accompaniments are provided by various orchestras and conductors.
The Edmonton Journal 9th November 1991
Master cellist shows lyrical intensity
Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber took the stage Friday night and thrilled the audience with his fervent playing and beautiful tone. The featured soloist with the Edmonton Symphony, Lloyd Webber gave an intense performance of one of the crown jewels of the cello repertoire – the Dvorak concerto. In the huge first movement, Lloyd Webber showed a strong sense of line that propelled the playing forward. The opening, often played with a broadening of tempo, was instead kept moving to create an urgency that was picked up by the orchestra.
The slow second movement, with its heart-melting lyricism, showed Lloyd Webber at his best; playing with a singing, centred tone with the warmth of burnished gold. The cadenza was song-ful rather than virtuosic and displayed the cellist’s musicianship in his sensitive phrasing.
The energetic march theme of the Finale seemed a bit rushed for all the quick notes that demand clarity, but the ending of the movement had some lovely tender moments and exquisite tone from Lloyd Webber’s cello. Guest conductor Stuart Bedford elicited a warm, rich sound from the orchestra that supported the soloist without overwhelming him.
William Walton’s Symphony No. 1 (1935) comprised the second half of the program. An interesting work from a young composer, it stays in the traditional form of a symphony while exploring the modern harmonic language of its day.
Maestro Bedford drew a big, full sound from the orchestra in the dramatic Allegro assai, and inspired a rhythmical intensity in the playing. The Scherzo is quirky writing, a la Prokofiev, that requires, and received, very tight ensemble playing.
The dreamy slow movement featured some lovely woodwind solos, and the sunny Finale had buoyant rhythm and bright sound from the brass.
The evening began with the Overture to Mozart’s Don Giovanni, a familiar piece to opera specialist Bedford, but not a remarkable reading from the orchestra, who must have been saving it for the Walton.
Which Compact Disc? August 1989
TACKLING A WAR HORSE
Julian Lloyd-Webber takes Dvorak’s Cello Concerto to Prague.
DVORAK CELLO CONCERTO OP104/CARNIVAL OVERTURE 0P921 POLONAISE (FROM ‘RUSALKA’)
Julian Lloyd Webber, cello; Czech PO/Vaclav Neumann
Philips 422 387-2
Over the years, Julian Lloyd Webber has come to be associated mainly with twentieth-century repertoire, and British music in particular: recordings, for a number of different record companies, of little known works by Delius, Holst, Bridge, Rawsthorne and Ireland etc. have brought him great critical acclaim. His recording of Elgar’s Cello Concerto under Yehudi Menuhin (Philips 416 354.2) won ‘Best British Classical Recording’ of 1986, since when it has established something of a permanent position in the Classical Top Ten. It was interesting, then, to discover why it had taken so long for him to take on that other great war-horse, the Dvorak Concerto: ‘There are so many versions of it nowadays that there really has to be a special reason for making another recording of it. But Philips came up with the suggestion of doing it in the Dvorak Hall in Prague with the Czech Phil. and Neumann, and I thought that was the right place.’
Webber loves the acoustic of that hail and is pleased with Philips’s handling of the recording. It certainly is good: the characteristic lean, silvery sound of this orchestra’s strings has been perfectly captured, and the great sense of unity in the performance is enhanced by an air of expectancy and excitement. Heroic gestures abound, but so do moments of great subtlety, not the least the relaxed ‘conversation’ between soloist and woodwind. A special rapport is certainly in evidence, ‘a great collaboration’ as Webber puts it, and this recording proves what ‘a great inspiration’ it was.
‘The orchestra had played the work many times before, and we never had to do a retake for them, It was extraordinary sitting there when they were playing the first tutti so wonderfully, with nothing wrong, no split notes, it was quite frightening waiting to come in because you really feel on the spot. Neumann is not someone who likes to do many retakes for the soloists; he likes to get the best out of the orchestra, and when he feels he’s done that he doesn’t want to do any more re-takes; he doesn’t like to patch. Either you respond under those conditions or else you’re not really going to be a recording artist…but it’s still terrifying!’
Webber has ‘mixed feelings’ about BBC 2’s film ‘Dvorak in Love’ which showed much of the recording process of this disc. ‘For the public it was very interesting, but I take recording very seriously and I’m not sure that I like the idea of people seeing what I went through there. I completely forgot that the filming was taking place and I think it’s important now to separate the two.’
The future looks good for more recording now that Webber has ‘the right instrument’, the Barjansky Stradivarius, on which ‘to make valid statements’. ‘I find the things that I’ve done — writing ‘Travels with My Cello’ and the book on Casals. ‘Song of the Birds’, and organising the Cellothon — I’ve really enjoyed doing. But I’m really keen now to give all the attention I can to playing.’