Britten Third Suite for Cello

Fanfare June 1997


Julian Lloyd Webber’s performances of British music always carry the imprimatur of authority. and transmit a palpable sense of conviction that never fails to win new devotees to this area of the cello literature. I am especially happy, then, to welcome these splendid offerings back to the catalogs. Lloyd Webber is an artist of missionary enterprise, and his playing is underpinned by a technical assurance that vouchsafes his preeminence as the foremost living exponent of England’s cellistic oeuvre. As a result of his advocacy, works like those collected on these two ASV issues arc increasingly seen as being emblematic of a unique nationalistic subgenre. That these two CDs embrace between them no fewer than six world-premiere recordings bespeaks as much. But that the music is played with such understanding, affection, and profundity of utterance outstrips regular expectations.

Britten’s Third Suite dates from the spring of 1971, and was premiered by Rostropovich (for whom the previous two Suites and the Cello Symphony were also written) in December 1974. The present performance, which dates from August 1979, is of special import, since it was in fact the first commercial recording of the piece, and it still holds its own in an increasingly competitive field. Julian Lloyd Webber’s account has both the pliant elasticity and the requisite expressive insights to make the most of its frisson and fantasy, but there is a deeper, darker, more elegiac core to this music. Britten’s implementation of the Kontakion, the Russian Orthodox hymn for the departed, is well documented, as is his decision to include an alternative version from English liturgy, and Julian Lloyd Webber plays the English Hymnal interpolation here. The Thema “Sacher,” an intriguing, unaccompanied cryptogram on the letters S-A-C-H-E-R, honored the conductor on the occasion of his seventieth birthday in 1976. A slight sixty-two seconds in duration, the current performance evidences Britten’s ingenuity in the genre, and the playing is magical. Alan Rawsthome’s cello sonata of 1949 (pithy, driven, sometimes truculent, but never crass), makes clever use of recurrent, cyclic themes as earlier motifs are revisited in the Finale: at the time of writing, no other recording exists, so a reading of this quality is the more welcome for its reappearance. The pianist here. and in the remaining accompanied works discussed here (in fact, there is only one other in the case of the first of these two discs, and that is a beguilingly enraptured account of John Ireland’s The Holy Boy) is the pianist and composer John McCabe, with whom Julian Lloyd Webber has enjoyed an especially fruitful collaboration.

The remaining solo works here are by Sir Malcolm Arnold and Sir William Walton. The former’s 1987 Fantasy for solo cello is, in my view, a splendid addition to the repertoire. Cast in seven highly contrasted movements, its sophistication lurks behind an inscrutability that Hugo Cole describes as “Chinese economy of means.” It is an apt description, and Lloyd Webber’s account (still the only one in the catalog) focuses skillfully on the composer’s desire to draw out the naturalistic, rather than virtuosic, side of the instrument’s persona. The Walton Passacaglia is built along traditional lines (eight-measure theme and ten variations); it condenses Altonian severity and acerbity down to a solitary instrumental voice, and does so masterfully. This performance is mesmeric.

The second release is devoted to fine readings from both artists of sonatas by Sir Charles Villiers Standford and John Ireland, and two characteristic miniatures by Frank Bridge. The Sonata in G Minor by John Ireland (1923) has been examined in these pages in context of the Marco Polo disc from Raphael Wallfisch and John York (Marco Polo 8.223718). Much as 1 found a lot to admire here (the program is a valuable one, also including the Edmund Rubbra sonata in G Minor, op. 60, and the superb A-Minor Sonata by E. J. Moeran). there remains, on comparison with this ASV version, a degree of blandness and discernible reluctance at times to probe much beyond the outer veneer of the notes. Hence, Julian Lloyd Webber’s playing has instantly more appeal and commu- nicative depth, and John McCabe’s management of the taxing piano part is a model of restraint? perhaps it takes a composer well versed in the ways of both instruments to make this music really work texturally? Of the Bridge pairing, Lloyd Webber relates in his insert note his happenstance discovery of the Scherzetto in a collection of manuscripts at the Royal College of Music, London. He gave the modern premiere of the piece, seventy-seven years after its composition, in April 1976; this slight but delicious encore piece is an ideal foil to the somber mood of the preceding Elegy, dating from 1905. Both performances arc admirable. The other large-scale work is the majestic and uncommonly Brahmsian Second Sonata (op. 93?1893) by Stanford. This work, as deserving of a niche in the repertoire as the similarly neglected Elegiac Variations by Sir Donald Francis Tovey (played quite decently by Rebecca Rust and David Aptcr on Marco Polo 8.223637), receives a robust and impassioned performance here. and. like several of the works contained on these ASV issues, is otherwise unavailable. To sum up. Julian Lloyd Webber’s striking and compelling performances arc of consistent excellence, and recorded sound is likewise entirely serviceable. My only gripe is that the labels with which he is associated, ASV and Philips, have yet to recognize both the musical significance and commercial viability of this area of the cello literature. If they were to relent, however, they would find no better artist for the task than Julian Lloyd Webber, whose performances may be unreservedly commended.

Michael Jameson

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

The Guardian 11th March 1981

Britten Third Suite for Cello

“Webber gives the expected virtuoso performance…the prize of the ASV collection. Lloyd Webber splendidly brings out what might almost be thought of as the schizophrenic side of the piece, the play between registers high and low, used not just to imply full orchestral textures but to interweave opposing ideas. With Lloyd Webber the climax of the Passacaglia is extroadinarily powerful, and his commitment is just as intense in the two pieces on the reverse – a brief poignant Elegy by Frank Bridge and John Ireland’s Cello Sonata.”

The Daily Telegraph 20th November 1980

Britten Third Suite for Cello

Julian Lloyd Webber

Eric Parkin

IT IS some time since London has had an opportunity to hear a programme of works for cello and piano by four of our most distinguished composers, performed with such authenticity and technical perfection as was the case at Wigmore Hall last night.

In Ireland’s Sonata in G minor (1923) Julian Lloyd Webber and Eric Parkin displayed instrumental mastery in projecting the strong and eloquent themes. A wonderful effect was achieved by Mr Parkin’s sustained and satisfying line in the haunting principal theme of the slow movement following on from Mr Lloyd Webber’s incisive opening. This finale had an unusual strength, drive and attack from both players.

A similar sense of purpose marked their handling of the long crescendo in Bridge’s Elegie (1911) and in his arresting Scherzetto (c. 1902), recently discovered at the Royal College of Music and a first London performance. Delius’s rarely heard Sonata. (1916) brought Eric Fenby on to the platform. This imaginative pianist, who was the composer’s amanuensis from 1928 until his death, provided a close yet independent partnership with Mr Lloyd Webber’s rich tone. On his own in Britten’s Suite, Mr Lloyd Webber, who incidentally performed the very testing programme without musuc, showed how mature his art has become.


The Times 20th November 1980

Julian Lloyd Webber plays Britten’s Cello Suite no 3


Lloyd Webber/ Parkin/Fenby

Ken Russell’s film A Sons of Summer has recently been largely responsible for bringing to wider notice the name of Eric Fenby, the young composer who spent six years as amanuensis to the , blind and paralysed Delius. But long ago Fenby’s own published account of the episode, as well as his constant devotion to Delius’s music an enthusiasm he encourages in others through his teaching, writing and performances have brought him well-earned recognition in musical circles. And last night’s recital showed that at a sprightly 74, Fenby still remains Delius’s most faithful champion.

Together with Julian Lloyd Webber he gave a glowing account of the Cello Sonata, a work’ he claims is much misunderstood by performers. Here we were shown that its melodies can be strong and muscular as well as broad and flowing; phrases were turned tidily, shaded subtly, and an overriding continuity of thought seemed to shape the whole.

For the rest of the programme Julian Lloyd Webber was joined by Eric Parkin, a partnership that proved equally successful. John Ireland’s Cello Sonata plumbs the depths of both instruments, and both players responded with a warmth and sensibility that confirmed a special affinity with Ireland’s style.

Both the Ireland sonata and the youthful Frank Bridge pieces that followed were approahed in a positive way that is all too rare in this sort of music. Phrasing was broad and long-breathed but never overstretched; hushed chromatic harmonies lingered but never outstayed their welcome. These were convincing and assured performances.

Mr Lloyd Webber remained undaunted by Britten’s third unaccompanied Cello Suite, written for Rostropovich in 1971. The haunting Russian tunes that form its basis were given in sombre, almost funereal tones, with a folklike simplicity that contrasted well with the more manical technical exploits, where Mr Lloyd Webber impressed us in a more artful way.

Judith Nagley

The Guardian 11th November 1980

Julian Lloyd Webber plays Britten’s Cello Suite no 3


Edward Greenfield

Webber Recital

NO MORE dedicated advocate of English cello music has emerged in recent years than Julian Lloyd-Webber, and it was good to find him attracting a large audience for what a few years ago might have seemed a very specialised programme of Ireland, Delius, Bridge and Britten.

True, it was Britten’s Third Cello Suite for solo cello which at the end of the programme conveyed a degree of concentration in the argument largely missing till then. One might have expected that in his third essay in this inevitably restricted form Britten’s inspiration would have contracted, but Lloyd-Webber if anything more than the dedicatee, Rostropovich, proves the opposite with eight movements, jewelled in their compression, leading to the culminating passacaglia and epilogue.

As a splendid start to the programme came the G minor Cello Sonata of John Ireland with Eric Parkin, long dedicated to the music of this composer, matching Lloyd Webber in responding to the taut, neurasthenic side of the composer as well as the relaxed warmth of the all-too-brief central slow movement.

For Delius’s elusive Cello Sonata the doyen of Delians, to whose toils we actually owe the last works, Eric Fenby, added his unique authority. Alas, unlike the Double Concerto written about the same time, it is a work which meanders even in a performance as persuasive as this.

Daily Telegraph 15th August 1979

Britten Third Suite for Cello

Wigmore Hall

Lloyd Webber/Parkin

In the second programme of the John Ireland centenary festival the composer was represented last night by his cello Sonata in G major, a work which employs strong themes and integrates them with great skill.

Julian Lloyd Webber, who had been heard in the Ravel Piano Trio at the opening concert, was well equipped to carry out a full-scale interpretation and his pianist partner Eric Parkin was equally persuasive with his deft and mercurial playing.

The programme was designed to link Ireland with his teacher Stanford and pupil Britten. Stanford, who studied in Germany and was born only 19 years after Brahms, was represented by his Second cello Sonata in D minor, greatly influenced by Brahms and a highly polished, eloquent work to which both players brought a sureness and grandeur.

On his own Mr Webber played Britten’s unaccompanied Third Suite in C with a great deal of brlilliance in the Fantastico and Presto, a spacious dimension in the final Passacaglio and a smoothness of execution which marks him as one of the most gifted young artists.