Britten Cello Sonata

The Independent 19th December 1994

Britten Sonata in C,op 65

There were no frills on offer for Julian Lloyd Webber on Thursday at the Wigmore Hall. No record signings or glossy promo packs. Just an evening of simple, honest music-making, like he always said it should be.

Said it on this page, in fact, over a week ago, in an interview that raised expectations about his style of playing that could only be justified in the act. His programme, with French and Russian classics, new works and old novelties, suggested no lack of ideas. Even so, it was the artist in action who proved his point that playing the cello remains his principal devotion.

He began with Britten’s Sonata in C; a smart choice, for in its spiderery plucked strings and side-glancing melodies he could project the spirit of his musicianship with little chance of going over the top. Elusiveness seems written into the very notes of this piece, and Lloyd Webber came nearest to direct statement in the Elegia, keening cello against acrid, bitonal chords from the pianist John Lenehan. Yet neither here nor in Debussy’s late Sonata were the players working at full pressure, despite a noble view of the Prologue and an encounter with the Serenade that caught the deft instability of its nervous pantomime.

Instead, these works gave a preview of the full picture to come: a tonal range that stretched from the lustrous alto timbre of an antique viola to a crisp, succulent bass, and a rhythmic acumen willingly shared between the two players.

The reward came after the interval, in a faultless reading of Rachmaninov’s testing Cello Sonata. After the bold adventure of its opening bars, the second theme, proposed by Lenehan and propelled by Lloyd Webber through a flight of echoes and asides, stood for the fine coordination of the whole. Gruff tremolos in the scherzo and a fine tune in the slow movement yielded to a finale that relaxed just enough to give the lyrical moments room to breath: it drew lively applause.

For a striking contrast, there was also the premiere of Dream Sequence, Richard Rodney Bennett’s medley of Broadway themes about childhood. And who else but the incomparable Bennett could turn a simple exercise into such art?

His chords had an easy showtime magic; at a push you could work them out at the piano; but never quite the chords he chose, and in such exquisite order. Lloyd Webber’s rapt pianissimo was an asset both here and in the plainsong world of another pre¬miere, James MacMillan’s Kiss on Wood; bright piano chords like flashes of lightning; then silence; then a winding chant for cello, stretched out on the rack of more silence to end on a prie-dieu of comforting harmonies. MacMillan’s vision of the cross was serene yet questioning and, like the Bennett, a significant plus for the cello repertoire.

A bouquet of salon music rounded off the evening: Cyril Scott’s Pastoral and Reel and Lullaby and Frank Bridge’s scherzo. These are composers who are polished and passionate. yet often undervalued. A bit like Lloyd Webber? No longer, on the evidence of this wholesome plum-pudding of a concert.

Nicholas Williams

Die Welt July 1993

Britten Cello Sonata

“The high intensity of Julian Lloyd Webber’s playing bewitched the Schleswig-Holstein public…Britten’s C major Sonata was performed in a way which highlighted a wealth of detail.”


Kraft aus der Synthese von Intellekt und Musikantentum

Salzburg: Der Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber Im Mozarteum

Gabriel Faures Elegie in c-Moll, op 24, – Ist das wirklich eine von jenen samtenen Musikschöpfungen, die zu nichts anderem gut sind, als daß sich ein Cellist mit Ihrer Hilfe zielstrebig Ins Herz seiner Zuhörer hinelnschmelchelt? Julian Lloyd Webber Ist ein erzmusikantischer Cellist, und ?jarum hat er diesem Stück nichts von seinem sentimentalen melodischen Reiz Benommen. Aber er Ist auch und vor allem ein hochintelligenter Cellist; einrr, der sich keineswegs mit einem sonoren Singsang die Bindebögen entlang zufrieden gibt. Er hält Faures Elegie eher im Mezzoforte und zeltweise in ganz Innigen Piano-Tö- nen, läßt den Schmelz also nur in kleiner Dosis zu. Und gerade deshalb bildet er mit seinem Cello kein akustisches Bollwerk zum Klavier hin, sondern lenkt das Interesse der Zuhörer hin zum Kollegen an den Tasten. Der Pianist bekommt so die Möglichkeit, ein wichtiges Stück Faure-VeretändnIs mitzuteilen: Faures harmonische Welten »ind »ehr genau geplante, vorimpressionistische Klangmalereien. Folgerichtig hat John Lenehan am Flügel der feinen Stimmung In den Akkorden nachhören können.

Es war eine durch und durch anregen- de Begegnung mit Violoncello-Literatur «us einem eher engen Zeitraum, zwischen 1880 und 1961.Sergej Rachmanlnow befrleolgte mit der g Moll Sonate, op. 19, durchaus Erwartungen’an Virtuosität und Schwärmerei. Benjamln Britten wollte mit seiner ?Sonata in C” (op. 65) wohl zeigen, daß das Schwelgen In den Melodien auch nach zwei Dezennien der Vorherrschaft serieller Kompositionswelsen seine Berechtigung hat, wenn es nur formal, strukturell gut abgesichert Ist.

Brittens Werk ist In dieser Hinsicht fürwahr gut »bgesichert. Und Uoyd Webber hat mit der ihm eigenen Kraft zur Synthese von Intellekt und Musikantentum ein bravourös aufgeschlüsseltes Bild von dieser Musik nachgezeichnet. Diese Etnton-Motive am Beginn, die so subtil In ihren Bewegungs- und Lautstärke-Werten verknüpft warenl Wieder hatte John Lenehan großen Anteil am stimmigen Ganzen, denn Brittens «So- nata” Ist nicht nur tm explizit so benannten ,Dialoge” ein eminent zwie-ge- sprachiges Werk. Der Londoner Pianist hat die Gabe, auch dichte Akkordpassagen mit beneidenswerter Klarheit und Schlankheit umzusetzen. Und er trifft mit schlafwandlerischer Sicherheit jeweils genau die dynimlsche Balance.

Der Abend war b-imerkenswert auch und gerade wegen der Übereinstim- mung zwischen dem Cellisten und sei- nem Begleiter.

Reinhard KriechtMum

The Strad July 1992

Britten Sonata, Julian Lloyd Webber, Manchester International Cello Festival

“Julian Lloyd Webber’s performance of the stimulating Britten Sonata was refreshingly pure and unfussy without losing any of its comic grace.”

The Washington Post 12th October 1989

Lloyd Webber’s Cello Treats

by Joseph McLellan

Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber introduced his second encore Tuesday night in the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater as the work of “a struggling young composer who has a hard time getting his music played and making ends meet.” It was, of course, composed by his brother Andrew – part of the brilliant “Variations,” which Andrew Lloyd Webber composed to pay off a lost football bet sometime between “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Evita” – long before “Cats” or “Phantom of the Opera.”

The music, a variation on Paganini’s 24th Caprice, was fast and furious, full of technical fireworks and ending with a sustained tow note that slid downward as Ltoyd Webber re-tuned his C string. His first encore, almost equally spectacular, was a piece by Benjamin Britten’s teacher Frank Bridge that Webber recently discovered in manuscript Between them, they nearly eclipsed a program that was devoted almost entirely to music of the 20th century.

Two works – the second version of Faure’s “Begy” and Rachmaninoff’s Op. 19 Sonata – barely made it into the century, dating from 1901. Lloyd Webber and his pianist, John Lenehan, responded to the music’s high romantic flavor with soaring lyric phrases in the soulful passages and all-out virtuoso playing in Rachmaninoff’s fiery fast movements. A transcription of the “Arioso” from Bach’s Cantata 156 seemed well chosen to open the program: It displayed Lloyd Webber’s deep, rich tone effectively, but it did not quite warm up the players for the harder music that followed.

Debussy’s Cello Sonata began with rather square phrasing that too often made direct, literal statements where suggestions might have been more effective. But the stiffhess faded, and the piece ended in good style. Before playing Britten’s Sonata in C, composed for Mstislav Rostropovich, Lloyd Webber shared a memory with the audience: “When I was about 13, I heard Rostropovich playing in London, and I think it was that more than any other thing that made me want to be a cellist. I would like to dedicate this performance to that great man of the cello.”

This music is enormously demanding, not only in its sometimes manic tempos and advanced techniques but also in its requirements for intense emotional expression, witty dialogue and sound effects that range from an ominous buzz to eerie, high-pitched glissandi. Lloyd Webber and Lenehan rose impressively to the challenges.

Diapason October 1998

Sonate pour violoncelle et piano.

SERGE PROKOFIEV: Ballade op. 15.

DIMITRI CHOSTAKOVITCH: Sonate pour violoncelle et piano.

Julian Lloyd Webber (violoncelle), John McCabe (piano).

Philips 422 345-2 (CD : 148 F). 1988. Minutage: 57’11”.

Un magnifique récital de musique de notre temps, faisant se rencontrer Chostakovitch et Britten, avant qu’une dernière amitié ne les lie dans la vie comme dans leur musique. Julian Lloyd Webber traite avec une égale splendeur leurs deux sonates, pourtant distantes de plus d’un quart de siècle. Ce traitement donne un nouvel éclat à l’Opus 65 de Britten. John McCabe, sans faire oublier le compositeur au piano avec Rostropovitch, s’impose dans le dialogue, tantôt de-bussyste, tantôt pré-classique de cette suite en cinq danses. Lloyd Webber, sans chercher à retrouver le lyrisme enjôleur de Slava, joue le jeu du Dia-logo original, accentue l’hispanisme stylisé du Scherzo-pizzicato, se souvient de Delius dans l’Elegie; il installe une tension dramatique post-schubenienne, qui donne une réelle consistance à la Marcia, dans sa démarche proche des Pas dans la neige debussystes, ainsi qu’aux abrupts changements de climat du Moto perpétua final. Ce même traitement convient un peu moins bien à la Sonate très classique de forme de Chostakovitch. Le déroutant Allegro initial exige une grande fluidité de phrasé tout en étant marqué de contrastes sous-jacents, à la manière de l’Opus 65 de Chopin.



Image sombre, manquant de brilliant

Guardian 15th October 1980

St John’s – Park Lane Group

Re-hearing Britten’s 1961 Cello Sonata, Opus 65, written at the start of his association with Rostropovitch, was an uncanny experience. I had forgotten just how potent were the dark elegaic landscapes, the abrasive, hard-hitting disturbances. The intensity of Julian Lloyd Webber’s performance, grave and wild by turns, was riveting.

Edward Seckerson

Music and Musicians April 1980

“Julian Lloyd Webber’s intelligent and lively artistic personality ensured some marvellously tough characterisation in Britten’s Cello Sonata. It now goes without saying that here is one of the most thoroughly-grounded, assured techniques among cellists. The pizzicato Scherzo was a tour-de-force of scarifying nerve, and those glissandos towards the end of the March were as firmly drawn and bitingly satirical as those on Rostropovich’s classic recording.”


The Daily Telegraph 24th November 1975

Vivid reactions to Britten cello works

In the Cello Sonata, where he was joined by Yitkin Seow at the piano, his tone was robust and well varied, though always tending to darker hues. Both artists were best amid the slightly outlandish excitements of the “Moto Perpetuo”.

Britten’s compositional virtuosity is especially apparent in the two unaccompanied Suites, with their fugues and diverse character pieces. Mr. Webber’s own virtuosity was very apparent in both works and he coped admirably with such problems as the extreme dynamic contrasts of No.2’s Declamato while showing a strong affinity with the brooding lyricism of the Lamento in No.1.