Bridge Scherzetto April 2012

National Children’s Orchestra of Great Britain at Cadogan Hall with Julian Lloyd Webber

There are several advantages for the audience attending a youth orchestra concert: in the first place, the musicians are all pleased to be there, and are keen to do their best; secondly, rather more rehearsal time than is usually allotted to an orchestral concert will have been expended on preparing the programme, and last, the personnel is more often than not greater than those of professional orchestras, affording an added bonus of being able to perform large-scale works with a more suitable number of players asked for by the composers than is usually encountered.

All of these factors, and more, were in evidence in this concert by the main National Children’s Orchestra (its members aged 13 to 14 – there is a second orchestra, made up of under 13s), which comprised almost 120 musicians on the specially extended stage (only three percussionists, including timpani, were named in the programme, when at least five were in evidence). Of course, some might complain that in theory an orchestra made up youthful players cannot match in experience or musical understanding that of older professionals, but in practice one had to keep reminding oneself that these musicians were still at secondary schools, from across the country – absolutely no allowances had to be made for their age.

It was a terrific programme: the first work, Matthew Curtis’s Sinfonietta, was new to your correspondent (as was the composer, about whom the lavishly illustrated programme book told us nothing, other than he was born in 1959), the work coming across as a cleverly written, brilliantly orchestrated and somewhat substantial piece in three movements of more than 20 minutes’ duration, although a little deficient in terms of distinctive character. It was exceptionally well played, the orchestra relishing the challenges this gifted composer placed before them.

Julian Lloyd Webber joined the NCO for two short pieces: in Fauré’s haunting Élégie his rich tone told well against the very fine orchestral balance under Gavin Sutherland’s conducting, and the rare Frank Bridge Scherzetto proved a delightful foil. These two works were quite beautifully played and projected with genuine character.

Thus far, so good: but these welcome events did not entirely prepare us for an astonishingly assured and profoundly impressive account of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. With four harps and the rest of the orchestra almost in proportion (just six double basses out of a total string strength of 69 – in this splendid acoustic this was not a problem) the result was a performance that gripped from first bar to last, Gavin Sutherland directing with the commanding character and sensitive musicianship of a master, his wide experience here put to genuine effect. Thankfully, a recording of the concert was made, so the truth of my comments can be readily demonstrated; in terms of sheer committed musicianship, virtuosity and total involvement from every player, this was a performance such as one rarely hears, even from major orchestras – let us hope these musicians, should they go on to have adult playing careers, never lose their enthusiasm for making music. On this showing, it was downright tangible and incredibly uplifting in our current socio-economic climate.

Robert Matthew-Walker

Penguin Guide to CDs 2000/1

British Cello Music Vol.2

‘British cello music’, Vol. 2
(with John McCabe, piano): STANFORD: Sonata No. 2, op. 39.
BRIDGE: Elegy; Scherzetto. IRELAND: Sonata in G min.

The Stanford Second Cello sonata (1893 — written between the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies) is revealed here as an inspired work whose opening theme flowers into great lyrical warmth on Lloyd Webber’s ardent bow. The focus of the recording is a little diffuse, but that serves to add to the atmosphere. Ireland’s Sonata, too, is among his most richly inspired works, a broad-spanning piece in which ambitious, darkly intense outer movements frame a most beautiful Poco largamente. Again Lloyd Webber, who has long been a passionate advocate of the work, conveys its full expressive power. The Bridge Elegy (written as early as 1911) is another darkly poignant evocation which points forward to the sparer, more austere style of the later Bridge, and the Scherzetto (even earlier, 1902) makes a winning encore: it should ideally have been placed at the end of the recital. John McCabe is a sympathetic partner — in spite of the balance — but this collection offers what are among Lloyd Webber’s finest performances on disc.

The Strad February 1993

Beatrice Harrison Memorial Concert – Wigmore Hall

Julian Lloyd Webber (cello)

Another English memorial took place on 9 December in a packed Wigmore Hall – Julian Lloyd Webber’s tribute to Beatrice Harrison.

Elgar’s biographer, Jerrold Northrop Moore, one of the few people still alive today who heard Beatrice play, gave an interesting address, describing Lloyd Webber as an inheritor of her style: ‘One wasn’t aware of fingers and wood – only of the music itself.’ Having heard Harrison on disc, it may be hard to view the self-effacing Webber as a descendant, but, leaving aside the glissandi and rubato of her time, he is certainly capable of revealing the music itself in an unusual way: in his performance of the Adagio from Elgar’s Concerto he exposed the structure in all its remarkable transparency and simplicity. Particularly striking was the Delius Sonata, a rhapsodic work which Webber managed to anchor, playing with unfailing beauty but not a trace of indulgence. His note on the Ireland Sonata, linking it with the novels of Arthur Machen, who wrote of ‘that strange borderland, lying somewhere between dreams and death’, threw a powerful if ominous new light over the work, and he found his most eloquent moments in the sustained, mauve-coloured phrases on D and G strings. Enormously enjoyable was Cyril Scott’s virtuosic Pastoral and Reel, for which Margaret Harrison was welcomed affectionately on stage to help John Lenehan with the accompaniment. Bridge’s Scherzetto is an encore Harrison herself would have played, and Webber attacked it with alacrity, showing that his English heritage isn’t just serious, beautiful and unsentimental.


BBC Music Magazine January 1993

British Cello Music Vol.2 CD


Stanford:Cello Sonata No.2
Ireland: Cello Sonata in G minor
Bridge: Elegy; Scherzetto
Julian Lloyd Webber (cello), John McCabe (piano)

Put simply, this is just marvellous cello playing. Julian Lloyd Webber joins forces again with the pianist John McCabe to produce a second volume of British music for cello and piano. This disc includes three world premiere recordings, two works by Frank Bridge and the wholly remarkable Second Cello Sonata in D minor by Stanford. Written in 1893, Stanford’s three-movement sonata could almost stand as the third cello sonata that Brahms never wrote. The expansiveness of the music draws passionate but beautiful playing from Lloyd Webber, lyrical at the top of the register but also particulalry resonant at the bottom. Bridge’s Elegy is wistful rather than tragic like Faure’s sombre Elegie.

The surprise on this disc is Bridge’s Scherzetto, written in 1902. Lloyd Webber discovered it in the library of the Royal College of Music while still a student there, giving its first performance in only 1979. It is a brilliant, virtuoso work full of skittish zest which Lloyd Webber controls impressively; a perfect piece for an encore.

Ireland’s Sonata written in 1923 is more conventional, but receives a highly committed performance from Lloyd Webber and the admirably neat-fingured John McCabe.

– Annette Morreau