Delius Romance September 24, 2012

Julian Lloyd Webber & John Lenehan at Wigmore Hall – Ireland and Delius

Ireland -Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano

Delius – Caprice and Elegy, Romance, Sonata for Cello and Piano

The anniversaries of two composers and the cellist connecting them were marked in this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall. The 50th-anniversary of John Ireland’s death and the 150th-anniversary of the birth of Frederick Delius are relatively well documented; though it could be argued neither has properly had the coverage in concert halls that they deserve, even this year. Binding the works of the two together is the cellist Beatrice Harrison, born 120 years ago, the dedicatee of the Delius’s Sonata and his Caprice and Elegy, and who gave the first performance of Ireland’s Sonata in 1924.

Julian Lloyd Webber is a passionate advocate of both these composers, and with regular accompanist John Lenehan has a long standing familiarity with each work, and indeed discovered Delius’s Romance in 1976. This early composition from 1896 bears some similarity to the shorter works by Fauré for cello and piano, and here was given a sunny countenance and warm tone, its main melody lightly elusive but attractive.

The mood was in direct contrast to the Ireland, which initially complemented the rainstorm outside, with glowering low-register cello statements and assertive interventions from Lenehan. Gradually the gloomy mood dissipated, with a whispered aside marking the intimate second theme of the first movement, its marking of ‘secreto’ perfectly observed. Lloyd Webber’s tone throughout this was probing in the mid-register, and the high notes were completely secure as the ending of each faster movement somehow negotiated its way in to G major.

Delius’s Caprice and Elegy is from 1930 and is much more concise than the Romance, the Caprice part especially effective with its tumbling five-note motif which was given by Lenehan in a beautiful pianissimo. Lloyd Webber’s cantabile line gave the melody a light touch, and the chromatic Elegy was soft-hearted but profound.

Delius’s Cello Sonata is a single movement in three sections, each with long-breathed tunes that need to be followed from the outset, lest listeners feel they are cutting-in to the middle of a conversation. The sweeps of melody and wandering harmonies went well together in this performance, though the relative lack of fast music made the dynamic observations all the more telling. The beautiful falling theme that becomes the Sonata’s calling card was affectionately played, the piece building to a triumphant conclusion.

The appropriate encores were Ireland’s arrangement of his song The Holy Boy, followed by Lloyd Webber’s transcription of the equally well-loved Sea Fever. Both were given with obvious affection, showing that Ireland’s melodic genius is ultimately to be found in shorter form, with his longer works reserved perhaps for more personal insights.

Ben Hogwood

The Times 25th June 1976

Lloyd Webber / Seow

Purcell Room

Hitherto, cellists have had four works by Delius at their disposal, although a fifth, early work was known about. That is the Romance (1896), which has just been published. It received its first British performance, two days after its premiere at the Helsinki festival, by Julian Lloyd Webber and Yitkin Seow last night.

The other Delius works have been sadly neglected by performers and left to the pens of apologists, with their familiar blend of blind enthusiasm and peeved reprimand. But, in Mr Lloyd Webber, for the first time since Jacqueline du Pre took the Concerto and Sonata into her repertory, Delius has an eloquent exponent able to draw out the long-spanned sequential writing and make emotional rhetoric out of a style which can easily sound merely prolix.

The new work proved to be a modest recital piece, after the manner of the Caprice and Elegy, carefully constructed, working its way through the bass, tenor and treble clefs to a central climax, and then down again. Although a comparatively early work, one could not fail to admire Delius’s sure handling of the tenor register of the instrument, so notable a feature of the lovely Concerto and, to a lesser extent, of the weaker Double Concerto. And, although some of the piano writing did incline towards characteristically block chordal support, given the feeling for the ebb and flow of the music which those two performers earlier revealed in the cello Sonata, the instruments go hand-in-glove to produce finely woven, gently nostalgic phrases.

In the triplets of the Sonata, one occasionally felt that Mr Lloyd Webber was forcing the rubato too hard. That apart, here and in the Britten opus 65 and Ireland G minor Sonatas, the cellist revealed a firm, well focused tone which spoke evenly throughout all the registers, with certain intonation and, above all, a cool, levelheaded way with the music which never overstated its case.

Keith Horner