The Siren 8th October 2012
Swansea Festival, BBC National Orchestra of Wales
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Owain Arwel Hughes, began the celebrations with typically Jonesian jagged swathes of complex sentimentality, performing his Eleventh Symphony with exactitude and emotion. A waif-like flute solo played ethereally by Matthew Featherstone offered a moment of pure serenity to a self-consciously de-constructivist oeuvre. Crisp and experimental, attentive to both Jones’ finesse and canny recycling, the convoluted and introverted theme was lustrously played by the BBC NOW.
Julian Lloyd Webber and his Barjansky Stradivarius (c. 1690) took centre stage to begin Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Op 85 with great familiarity. This ‘real large work’ was indeed ‘good and alive’, as Elgar himself quipped. With the undulating orchestra behind him, Webber respectfully alluded to Beatrice Harrison, Jacqueline du Pre and Mstislav Rostropovich in both phrasing and dynamics, unifying a previously disparate relationship between the three interpretations. Seamless bowing and technical prowess produced droplets of liquid notes with a honeyed tone, seducing an already-entranced audience. At the finish, silent astonishment and awe was shattered by insuperable, foot-stomping acclaim.
Leading to dark passages, Vaughan Williams’ Second (London) Symphony ventured into depths unknown, at once evoking unanimous terror and intrigue. A petrifying roar from assertive conducting and responsive performing startled any hint of dormant complacency. Mysterious and uncontrollably compelling, the BBC NOW were, in a word, sublime.
Strad Magazine July edition 2011
60th Birthday Concert
ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL, LONDON
14 APRIL 2011
Julian Lloyd Webber attracted an A-list cast of musical friends to celebrate his 60th birthday with him. As a cellist he has always been equally at home in traditional repertoire and popular music – he was famously featured in the South Bank Show TV signature tune – and here he was at ease with Cleo Laine, whose performance of ‘He was Beautiful’ with Lloyd Webber accompanying wooed the audience. The cello’s role in education was celebrated with the ‘In Harmony’ children’s project playing Frank Biddulph’s Hot Gold, while cellists from the Royal College of Music performed Klengel’s Hymnus and the Aria from the fifth Bachianas brasileiras by Villa-Lobos. Here soprano Danielle de Niese wove her magic, shortly followed by violinist Tasmin Little and organist Jane Watts in a charming Benedictus by Julian’s father William Lloyd Webber, which glistened with post-Elgarian harmonies.
Nor could a celebration of Julian’s career omit his brother Andrew’s influence, hence The Phantom of the Opera cunningly strolled into the musical fare. A world premiere from Eric Whitacre for cello and orchestra was a welcome present, but the Elgar Cello Concerto partnered by the Phiharmonia Orchestra under Christopher Warren-Green had greater impact: Lloyd Webber performed it with awesome technical élan and a real empathy for the musical idiom.
Birmingham Post June 17th 2011
Orchestra of the Swan, at Birmingham Town Hall
Orchestra of the Swan’s final concert for this season at Birmingham Town Hall was quite an occasion, with an absolute full house to hear Julian Lloyd Webber, OOTS’ current Associate Artist, play one of his signature works, the Cello Concerto by Elgar.
Spirits hovered in the air, as the Concerto was part of the first-ever concert given by the CBSO here, Elgar himself conducting, but I think this present performance would have been markedly different from that probably grand rendition.
Lloyd Webber here shared in what was a heartwarmingly chamber-music collaboration with David Curtis’ orchestra, always alert to what the orchestral musicians were contributing, seamless in unisons, and phrasing with telling delicacy.
Tempi were bravely reined-back for the soloist’s sometimes hesitant, sometimes reluctant, gloriously beatific utterances. This could have been a mere run-through; soloist, conductor and orchestra ensured that it wasn’t.
Vaughan Williams’ Wasps Overture, buzzingly alert, and with such noble horns, could perhaps have been balanced more judiciously in its concluding counterpoint, but Brahms’ Second Symphony, some tiny imprecisions of ensemble aside, was a total delight.
This was a “green” reading of this pastoral symphony, warm, organic in its growth, heroic strings caressing eloquent wind solos. And Curtis’ meticulous rehearsal, on very little time, certainly paid dividends.
Rating * * * *
By Christopher Morley
Mail on Sunday April 24th 2011
Julian Lloyd Webber, Anniversary Gala, Royal Festival Hall, London
As a postscript to my tribute to Julian Lloyd Webber a fortnight ago, his 60th birthday gala was a joy because of the inspired blend of material, both familiar and unfamiliar.
Of course, room was found in the first half for Julian’s Elgar Concerto, but then he really let his hair down – and he’s still got a lot of it. There was some Villa-Lobos sexily sung by Danielle de Niese; some amazing Ellington with Cleo Laine throwing off her 83 years with all the charisma of a great trouper; and a beautiful, newly composed piece for cello and strings by the American Eric Whitacre in the best English pastoral tradition.
Room was also found for tributes to Julian’s father William, whose beautiful Benedictus was radiantly played by Tasmin Little, and birthday greetings from brother Andrew, accompanying Julian and his wife Jiaxin in some Phantom Of The Opera arrangements.
During a terrific evening Julian proved his versatility over and over again under the benevolent baton of another great friend, Christopher Warren-Green, and a tireless Philharmonia.
Yorkshire Post 10th August 2007
Elgar Cello Concerto
The music of Edward Elgar has never been so popular as it is today, with a capacity audience in the vast expanses of the International Centre celebrating the composer’s 150th anniversary.
It had as its main attraction Julian Lloyd Webber as the soloist in the Cello Concerto, his interpretation universally acclaimed, the unforced approach presenting a lucid and often deeply moving account of the composer’s autumnal work.
The solo part does present technical challenges that many soloists today use as a virtuoso showpiece, Lloyd Webber by contrast being at such ease that he effortlessly marries these moments into the general texture.
In Owain Arwel Hughes and the Royal Philharmonic, he had ideal partners, always adding to the work’s outgoing colours, yet perfectly balancing their weight with the lyric qualities of the solo line.
It was the younger Elgar who painted musical pictures of his friends in the Enigma Variations, tempos here nudged along without ever sounding rushed, the dramatic sections never wanting for impact.
Walton’s Spitfire Prelude and Fugue was lacking in sheer brio, Vaughan Williams’s overture, The Wasps, superbly buzzing with infinite mischief.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Harrogate International Centre
Glasgow Herald August 6th 2007
Elgar Cello Concerto
EDINBURGH YOUTH ORCHESTRA, MUSIC HALL
With Julian Lloyd Webber as soloist, Elgar’s Cello Concerto played to a capacity audience at the opening of this year’s Youth Festival. Garry Walker conducted the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra, which has already built up its own loyal following here.
The sedate tempo of the opening of the Concerto seemed disconcerting but Lloyd Webber’s performance soon made its point clear. Constant glances between soloist, conductor and orchestra leader made it obvious that Lloyd Webber intended to impress his stamp firmly on the music. With meticulous technical finesse, he pointed up countless fine details in the score, which can be missed. The gentle autumnal glow of the slow movement was totally entrancing.
The concert opened with the orchestra in fine fettle in Sir Malcolm Arnold’s Four Scottish Dances. The broad humour of the second Dance came across with great verve and in the third Dance the beautifully transparent sound of the upper strings and woodwind playing were both established as a hallmark of this orchestra.
These aspects of the playing were crucial in the success of Ravel’s orchestral setting of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. As in Malcolm Arnold’s Dances, this score has its moments of humour, though much more subtly expressed. The Edinburgh orchestra caught the abruptly changing moods of the contrasting pictures perfectly, pointed up by some splendid solo playing throughout the orchestra. The percussion section, which sometimes gets taken for granted, was particularly fine. ALAN COOPER
The Mail on Sunday June 10th 2007
Elgar Cello Concerto
Elgar really is worth all this pomp
The day of Elgar’s birth in 1857 was a perfect summer’s day. And so was the day when the people of Worcester laid on celebrations for his 150th anniversary in honour of their favourite son. There was a mayor’s reception and chamber concert in the morning, a gala birthday concert in the cathedral in the afternoon, and in the evening a grand dinner in perhaps the most beautiful room in any municipal building in the country. The cathedral, the River Severn and the Malvern Hills beyond, all so vital to Elgar’s inspiration, sparkled in the sun. As my mother loved to say: ‘God’s in His Heaven — all’s right with the world!’
Certainly, that was the only proper response to a wonderfully atmospheric concert in this great cathedral’s unusually sympathetic acoustic. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic sounded rich and ripe throughout, and four choruses, no less, under the inspired baton of veteran Elgarian Donald Hunt overwhelmed us with the full majesty of Elgar’s orchestral and choral writing.
Elgar’s mother, Ann, had a busy day on June 2, 1857, and so did Julian Lloyd Webber 150 years later. After offering a noble account of the cello concerto here, he flew to London by helicopter for a repeat performance in a sold-out Albert Hall.
It was a sure sign that Elgar is back in his rightful place in public esteem, from which he had fallen well before his death, aged 76, in 1934. His 70th birthday concert in London, for instance, in the presence of the composer, was less than half frill. Thankfully, today we recognise him for what he is: not the jingoistic minstrel of empire, as was once thought, but a sensitive genius who bared his soul in some of the most haunting music ever written.
That is why, in our uncertain age, the autumnal cello concerto speaks to us so movingly, and no living cellist does it better than Lloyd Webber. His long-gestated reading was sensitive to every nuance, and the beauty of tone he drew from his 1690 Strad was often breathtaking.
Donald Hunt’s empathy with the composer shone through every bar of a wonderfully detailed account of the Enigma Variations, which I had the privilege of hearing while sitting next to a great-niece of Winifred Norbury, whose delicately etched variation precedes Nimrod.
It was worth the price of the ticket just to hear Elgar’s choral version of the National Anthem, with ‘knavish tricks’ and all the rest of the politically incorrect stuff in verses two and three that is normally suppressed today.
Glorious, too, to hear the full orchestral version of the anthem ‘Give Unto The Lord’, composed in 1914 for St Paul’s Cathedral, when Elgar was still near the height of his powers.
My only regret, not entirely swept away by a vigorous performance, was the inclusion of the Coronation Ode, written for Edward VII in 1902. The forelock-tugging lyrics of A.C. Benson, then an Eton housemaster, simply don’t work today. However splendid the music, this is the kind of thing most contemporary Elgarians have spent half their lives denying is the real Elgar. It’s best experienced by consenting adults in private.
Here, too, came my only quibble about the performers. The four soloists were an ill-assorted bunch, with a soprano whose wobble under pressure recalled Walt Disney’s Clara Cluck, and a tenor who works locally, and who should stick to the entertainment after Rotary dinners.
Even while Elgar’s star was on the wane, broadly between the Twenties and the Seventies, outstanding recordings of his music were made, many by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. So it’s an excellent idea to gather together some of the best on five CDs.
Elgar made his last three recordings with the newly formed LPO in 1933, and all are included here. As are fine recordings by distinguished Elgarians such as Sir Adrian Boult and Sir Georg Solti, as well as a novelty; Dame Janet Baker, the guest of honour at Saturday’s jubilations, in a previously unissued 1984 live recording of the Sea Pictures, which she sings with unique authority.
The Press, NZ, 1st June 2006
Elgar Cello Concerto
Lloyd Webber weaves magic
NZSO with Julan Lloyd Webber (cello) and Hamish McKeich (contra bassoon). Town Hall Auditorium
The drawcard for this concert was always Julian Lloyd Webber.
The items flanking him were of definite interest — a rarely heard romantic anachronism and a new Kiwi piece — but first mention should go to Lloyd Webber. His account of Elgar’s Cello Concerto was a blend of introspection in the opening movement, red- blooded romance in the adagio and bite in the finale.
His eloquent interpretation ensured he never rode across the top of the orchestra, but rather with it, reserving his tone more as an extra orchestral colour.
His intense sound ensured we heard virtually everything, yet in many ways he was very laid-back.
The technical stuff was, of course, apple pie with the harmonics and deft upper-register work ringing like a bell. Even the pizzicato chords had that extra something.
For the hundreds of times he must have played this work, Lloyd Webber still demonstrated his absolute involvement in the music. His relationship with the orchestra was seamless, with its support never overwhelming. It was easy to see how his recording with Menuhin was voted one of the best discs ever.
His choice of the Britten as an encore was rather strange, with the disjointed pizzicato falling a little flat after the richness of the Elgar.
Heavy Traffic, by Michael Norris, is an engaging work, notable for its obvious humour and programmatic references, but most of all for giving the neglected contra bassoon its moment in the sun.
Hamish McKeich is passionate about his instrument and he plays it fabulously, facing the challenges of this tricky score with relative ease.
Norris, wisely, did not try to make it a surrogate cello, accepting that it can be a figure of fun and used the full gamut of effects — from B-grade horror movie to flatulent moose. Musical curiosity it may be, but this work may well turn out to be one of the most well- known pieces for the instrument.
Finally, Zemlinsky’s long- neglected Mermaid took up the second half. Conductor James Judd sculpted a passionate and virtuosic account of this unashamedly sumptuous score. The orchestra had supported magnificently throughout the night and taking centre stage, it dazzled.
Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd
Classic Today December 2004
Elgar Cello Concerto
The coupling is a logical one: the cello concertos of Elgar and Walton, played by British cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, an empathetic artist with a special affinity for English cello literature. Lloyd Webber’s recording of Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor was made in July 1985, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yehudi Menuhin. It is a deeply-felt performance, imbued with a touching degree of modesty, placing it among this artist’s finest documents on CD. Lloyd Webber’s plangent tone and unhurried approach fully engages the nobility and the valedictory content of the work in equal degree. Particularly moving is the Adagio, notable for its restraint and for much exceptionally beautiful quiet playing. Frequently compared with the classic 1965 EMI recording by Jacqueline Du Pré with the London Symphony Orchestra under Barbirolli, Lloyd Webber’s account is no less powerfully eloquent.
Curiously however, when this performance first appeared, it was paired with Menuhin’s recording of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, generally a splendid account, now supplanted by Lloyd Webber’s 1996 performance (with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Neville Marriner) of the Cello Concerto by William Walton. That’s not to say that Lloyd Webber’s Walton is any less convincing nor impressive than his Elgar, but simply that the earlier Philips Digital Classics package had seemed well worth preserving. This reading of the Walton concerto, however, has been beautifully recorded. The meticulously balanced production allows the complex inner fabric of Walton’s score to be laid clearly before the listener, and Lloyd Webber understands its underlying luxuriance, debating its opulence and expressive warmth to good effect. Compared with Lyn Harrell’s EMI version with Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony, the Lloyd Webber/Marriner collaboration is more deeply considered and more faithful to the letter of the score, and the slightly smaller orchestral resources employed help the soloist to prove convincingly that in expressive terms, less is often more. Another worthy inclusion in the Phillips 50 series, but the original coupling of Elgar’s concerto and Variations seemed more or less complete in itself, so why change it?
Gramophone Classical Good CD Guide 2003
Favourite Cello Concertos
Albinoni (arr Palmer) Adagio in G minor
Bach (arr Palmer) Cantata No 147 — Jesu, joy of man’s desiring
Dvorák Cello Concerto in B minor, B191
Elgar Cello Concerto in F minor, Op 85. Romance, Op 62. Une idylle in G, Op 4 No 1
Fauré Elegie, Op 24 Gounod Ave Maria
Lloyd Webber Jackie’s Song
Saint-Sans Cello Concerto No 1 in A minor, Op 33. Allegro appassionato in B minor, Op 43. Le carnaval des animaux — Le cygne Schumann (air Palmer) Kinderszenen, Op 15d—Traumerei, Op 15 No 7
Tchaikovsky Variations on a Rococo Theme in A, Op 33
Julian Lloyd Webber c with various orchestras and conductors
Philips © 462 115-2PM2 (155 minutes: DDD) Recorded 1984-98
A first-class package in every way. Julian Lloyd Webber has a firm, richly coloured and full- focused tune. 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 Dvorák 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-Saëns 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 tribute to Jacqueline du Pré is played as an ardent, tuneful and timely postscript.
The Mail on Sunday 15th April 2001
Elgar Cello Concerto
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 commis¬sioned 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, ‘A 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 Hoist’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 Var¬iation and a stunning Saint-Saens First Concerto with the son of another cellist, Jan Pascal Toitelier, 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.
Penguin Good CD Guide 2003
Elgar Cello Concerto
Cello Concerto. Enigma variations, Op. 36.
***Ph. Dig. 416 354-2. (i) Julian Lloyd Webber;
The Philips coupling of the Cello concerto and the Enigma variations, the two most popular of Elgar’s big orchestral works, featuring two artists inseparably associated with Elgar’s music, made the disc an immediate bestseller, and rightly so. These are both warmly expressive and unusually faithful readings, the more satisfying for fidelity to the score, and Julian Lloyd Webber in his playing has never sounded warmer or more relaxed on record, well focused in the stereo spectrum.’
Daily Mail 26th March 1999
Elgar Cello Concerto
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.
South China Morning Post 12th June 1997
Elgar Cello Concerto
Hong Kong British Centenary Concert – Elgar Cello Concerto
Academy of St Martin in the Fields,
Conducted by Sir Neville Marriner, Cultural Centre Concert Hall, June 11th
When a constellation of international talent is drawn into the orbit of local stars (and stars-to-be), the celestial results can be astonishing. The centre of gravity for the spectacular concluding triumph of the Academy Music Festival was the legendary Academy of St Martin in the Fields (chorus and orchestra) whose distinguished ranks were augmented by faculty, graduates and students of the Academy of Performing Arts and members of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and Hong Kong Sinfonietta.
Four Chinese solo instruments were added to these prodigious forces for the world premiere of Law Wingfai’s When Mountains Roar. Conductor Yu Long presided over this monumental work from whose ever-changing orchestral textures grew arabesque from solo dizi (Dai Ya), sheng (Ronald Chiang Tao), pipa (WongChing) and guzheng (Xu Ling-zi). Its final section coaxed three poems by Mao Zedong (oddly untranslated in the printed programme) from the chorus in massive chords which edged very close to triumphalism.
Politically inspired music of an entirely different order followed in Elgar’s Cello Concerto.
Soloist Julian Lloyd Webber gave an utterly committed and intensely personal reading of this deeply-felt work. In a beautiful presentation, Sir Neville Marriner’s clean phrasing and rhythmic precision served, perhaps paradoxically, to emphasise the profoundly introspective nature of this extraordinarily lyrical work.
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 September 1992
Elgar Cello Concerto
In the first of a regular series based on Radio 3’s popular Record Review, Jerrold Northrop Moore assesses the available recordings of Elgar’s much loved late masterpiece.
The Definitive Elgar
OVERALL BEST – Julian Lloyd Webber
c/w Elgar’s Enigma Variations
Philips 416 354-2
It is a rare work indeed that announces its nature, medium and mood as immediately as Elgar’s Cello Concerto. In half a dozen bars we know that it is a concerto, that the solo instrument is a cello and that its mood is serene. And no recording I know achieves all that with such spare economy as the composer’s own – recorded when he was 70 in 1928, with the New Symphony Orchestra and Beatrice Harrison. Its sound has come up astonishingly well on the newest EMI transfer – generously coupled on CD with Elgar’s famous 1932 recording of the Violin Concerto with Yehudi Menuhin.
Fashions in string playing have suffered a sea-change since the inter-war years. Until then, thick gut strings had been universal from time immemorial; but nowadays almost everyone has discarded them in favour of thin metal or nylon. That simple change affects everything – tone quality and vibrato (since the same finger- morion produces more violent oscillations the thinner the string). Above all it affects portamento, that lightning slide between certain pairs of key notes. Portamento was once a part of serious string playing. Now it’s associated mainly with the schmaltz of the salon because it sounds so uncontrolled in the hands of many players on metal strings. But gut strings, their vibrato and portamento, are the sounds of Elgar’s world and time, the sounds which were in his mental ears when he conceived the Cello Concerto and devised its realisation.
How far did playing styles move away from all that in later years? About as far as can be heard in the late Jacqueline du Pre’s CBS recording with Daniel Barenboim and the Philadelphia Orchestra. This account (compiled from live performances) features close-miked solo metal strings, menacing vibrato to produce oily tone, a huge (perhaps slightly hyped) dynamic range, portentous swellings and pauses and changes of pulse, and passionate slaps of the bow to reassure the listener of the cellist’s emotional commitment.
Fortunately Du Pre made an earlier recording under the firm hand of Sir John Barbirolli. This was for EMI in 1965. Barbirolli sets an easy, forward motion from the outset, and the teenaged Du Pre takes her graceful cue from him. Yet there’s still the occasional oily sound of close-miked vibrato on metal strings.
Contrast that with the only modern recording where the cellist has gone back to gut strings – by Steven Isserlis with the LSO under Richard Hickox. The solo sound is darker, perhaps slightly muffled compared with the bright lights more customary today. But to my ears this sound produces, above all, integrity. There’s little of that gear- changing shriek some metal players like to exploit when they move from one string to another. The gut strings give Isserlis an ability to confine his sonic switches to musical purposes. His Virgin Classics recording unfortunately does not reproduce its loud passages ideally, perhaps because the recorded level of sound is low. Turned up to let the music be heard, the orchestral climaxes can sound harsh.
Another recording matches fine performance to equally fine sound. It comes from Philips, and features Julian Lloyd Webber with the Royal Philharmonic. And it offers a unique link with Elgar himself in the conducting of Sir Yehudi Menuhin, the last remaining active musician who was closely associated with Elgar and his world. Menuhin was soloist in the famous 1932 recording of the Violin Concerto, conducted by the great man himself. Fifty-three years later Sir Yehudi directed the Cello Concerto for this recording with Julian Lloyd Webber, who shows himself a master of subtle portamento even on metal strings. Menuhin has deeply absorbed the delicate colours and fundamental innocence of Elgar’s private world from his own experience of the man, and Lloyd Webber has the musical insight to match him.
One of the best conducted performances is that of Giuseppe Sinopoli with the Philharmonia on Deutsche Grammophon. The solo part, played by Mischa Maisky, is very close-balanced. That yields dividends in quick passages such as the second movement. Elsewhere Maisky overdoes the expression, and with the recording as it is there’s no getting away from him.
Now I must apply some rough justice. The current catalogue lists19 versions of the Cello Concerto. To discuss fairly the qualities that seem important in the possible versions means dismissing several. There is Robert Cohen, recorded in January 1980 when he was very young with Norman del Mar and the LPO. Their Classics for Pleasure disc is not bad but Cohen had not yet achieved the maturity to get inside this music and project a comprehensive profile of it.
Then there is another young player, Felix Schmidt, with the LSO under Fruhbeck de Burgos, on Pickwick. When the music is straightforward, Schmidt gives an utterly competent account of himself. But Elgar’s music is seldom straightforward, and I hear little deeper understanding in this performance.
There is also a curiosity – a transcription of the solo part for viola by the late Lionel Tertis. This is given a fine performance by Rivkka Golani and the RPO under Vernon Handley on Conifer. Elgar himself was intrigued with the viola idea, and once actually conducted a performance for Tertis. But the transcription is a horrible affair. It repeatedly moves the solo part up or down an octave, upsetting Elgar’s instrumental balances often right in the middle of a phrase. And it changes plucked notes to bowed ones whenever the lighter viola can’t cope.
In the concerto’s second movement Allegro molto, the gut strings of Steven Isserlis give him a unique advantage in shaping the rhythm with exactly the forward impulse that I fancy Elgar wanted. His Adagio, ably seconded by Hickox, is on the same level.
This third movement wears an exposed simplicity that recalls Mozart’s slow movements. Here I’m equally impressed by a 1988 recording by that prince of cellists, the late Paul Tortelier, with the RPO under Charles Groves. The soloist is firmly in charge of this performance and he is well supported by the conductor. The disc was made to celebrate Tortelier’s 75th birthday. Now it is his memorial, and a fine one. This recording seems to me altogether preferable to Tortelier’s earlier performance made for EMI in 1972 with Sir Adrian Boult and the LPO. The names are alluring, but something was missing in the chemistry that day.
Also at budget price is a Naxos disc featuring the young German cellist Maria Kliegel, with the RPO under Michael Halasz. She offers lovely tone with restrained portamento. Her virtues and faults are those of youth: freshness is counterpoised by Keatsean melancholy, with many passages ‘half in love with easeful death’. Her generous coupling is the Dvorak Concerto, which makes this disc a budget bargain.
One of the worst accounts of the concerto in my book is by Yo Yo Ma, with the LSO under Andre Previn on CBS. As the music progresses, Ma feels the need to indulge in a strange species of rhetoric, whereby he concludes every note he thinks important with a sort of rasp of the bow. This mannerism is altogether tiresome enough to put his disc right out of my consideration.
Heinrich Schiff and the Dresden Staatskapelle under Sir Neville Marriner on Philips are reliable and offer some attractive soft playing. But anything approaching a climax tempts them into heavy weather.
In the Finale, Elgar brings us to the result of it all, in what many regard as a summation of his life’s work. An introduction and sonata allegro is followed by a long and wistful retrospect before a coda brings back the concerto’s opening notes to close the circle. All this poses a supreme test for musicianship, and, in the sonata- development, for technique as well.
Because this fourth movement is such a multi-faceted test, I’ve taken several recordings out of consideration here. One is a sad failure because of an extraordinary technical fault right at the beginning of the Finale. Its an otherwise fine performance from Ralph Kirshbaum with another gifted Elgarian, Sir Alexander Gibson, conducting the Scottish National Orchestra, on Chandos. After three movements in good sound, the Finale begins densely muffled, as if behind closed doors.
Then there is Pierre Fournier, with the Berlin Philharmonic under Alfred Wallenstein. This is a lovely performance, recorded 30 years ago. But Deutsche Grammophon has seen fit to remaster it digitally for CD. The results separate solo cello and orchestra into entirely different acoustics.
There’s far better sound on a Decca London recording by Lym Harrell with the Cleveland Orchestra under Lorin Maazel. This is a real bear-hug of a performance and there’s little indulgence in false emotion, the curse of several competitors. But it’s a bit short on real emotional insight as well.
A performance to be avoided is, alas, Casals, recorded in 1945 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Boult. In much of the concerto, Casals is simply unidiomatic. In the Finale he grunts and groans miserably. The recorded sound, once wiry, has been ‘corrected’ for CD to a uniform dullness.
In the Finale recapitulation, all the cellos of the orchestra join the solo player in what should emerge as eloquent resignation. Harrell and Maazel are merely ungainly here, but Isserlis and Hickox on Virgin Classics get it just right. So do Lloyd Webber and Menuhin. And the way they emerge on to the widening landscape of the retrospect is a marvel.
In the retrospect itself, Elgar himself conducts with the firmest grip of all in perhaps the most overtly emotional music he ever wrote. His 1928 recording with Beatrice Harrison is in a class of its own, and the EMI re-issue presents cleaner and better sound than I would have believed possible.
An earlier recording of the concerto with Beatrice Harrison and conducted by Elgar was made in 1919-20, soon after the work was written. This is now available as part of a five-disc Elgar Edition by Pearl. The transfers are skilfully done, but the recording was made by the primitive ‘acoustic’ process and some of the movements were abridged. Still, it offers an insight into how a great composer thought of his latest work, then hardly a year old.
Of modern versions, it is Julian Lloyd Webber’s performance on Philips coupled with Menuhin’s deeply sensitive account of Elgar’s Enigma Variations that wins my prize. Despite the occasional close recording of the solo cello, here is a performance to live with.
LE DEVOIR 2Oth May 1992
Elgar Cello Concerto
Joindre l’utile à l’agréable
Concerto pour violoncelle op.66; Chostakovitch, Le ruisseau limpide:
Tchaikovski, Variations sur un thème rococo op.33 (version originale),
Nocturne en ré mineur Philips
English Chamber Orchestra. Dir. Yan-Pascal Tortelier ; Saint-Saens,Concerto pour violoncelle op.33, Allegro appassionato op,43; Fauré,Elégie op.24; D’Indy, Lied op.19;
Honegger, Concerto pour violoncelle. Philips 432 084-2.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Dir.
Yehudi Menuhin: Elgar, Concerto pour violoncelle op.85. Variations sur un thème original Enigma op.36.
« ÉTUDIANT, je rêvais de pouvoir un jour faire des disques. Mais comment être certain d’y parvenir, les interprètes étant infiniment plus nombreux que, les grands éditeurs discographiques pour les enregistrer. Par ailleurs, à l’âge de 15 ans, vous ne savez pas comment votre jeu va évoluer. Allez-vous résister aux pressions de toutes sortes? II y a tant de facteurs à prévoir. »
À 40 ans, Julian Lloyd Webber s’est à présent taillé une place au..soleil parmi les meilleurs violoncellistes anglais de sa génération et cela, sans lien direct avec la florissante carrière «pop » de son frère aîné Andrew (l’auteur du Fantôme de l’opéra). Il affirme ne lui devoir rien, ni ses disques (il en a signés 10 chez Philips), ni son superbe Stradivarius, acquis en 1983 dans un encan et qu’U a payé difficilement, précise-t-ii, avec un emprunt de la banque.
Est-elle bonne ou mauvaise, cette relation que certains s’empressent d’établir entre lui et son aîné? D’abord indécis, il finit par avouer qu’elle s’avère plutôt négative en ce qu’elle le prive du bénéfice du doute aux yeux de nombreux mélomanes. Différent, il prétend l’être et pouvoir le prouver.
Aujourd’hui, Julian partage ses efforts entre le concert et l’enregistrement en essayant de rendre ,l’un et l’autre complémentaires. Il croit que le second devrait être le reflet fidèle du premier… une photographie, en quelque sorte. Aussi voit-il avec un vif intérêt la possibilité de graver un CD à partir d’un concert en public. Pour diminuer les risques, on pour- i-ait faire un montage en utilisant deux ou trois exécutions de la même pièce.
Pour le moment Cependant, il déplore que l’abus du montage ait eu pour effet de stériliser un trop grand nombre de disques — acquise de cette manière la perfection engendre des lectures qui se ressemblent toutes et qui ont hélas perdu l’originalité et la fraîcheur des 78 tours d’autrefois, ceux de Pablo Casals ou de sa compatriote Beatrice Harrison qu’il semble admirer particulièrement.
Il souhaite laisser un héritage à la postérité. « Nous pouvons donner autant de concerts que possible clans une vie, au bout du compte, il n’eii restera rien. Alors que les enregistrements, comme les œuvres du compositeur, nous survivront. »
A certains égards, cette pensée lui paraît troublante. Regardez le nombre incroyable de versions que l’on continue de publier des mêmes oeuvres. » Devant ce constat, il a tenté une approche, différente dans la conception d’un disque. Prenons le Concerto d’Elgar, par exemple. « Je voulais le faire avec Menuhin qui à déjà enregistré le concerto de violon en 1932 avec le compositeur au pupitre (édité chez EMI, CDII 7 69786- 2) — ce lien m’a semblé dune importance toute particulière. »
Quant au reste du programme, j’avais pensé que la Sérénade pour coi-des op.20 et l’Introduction et allegro pour cordes op.47 auraient fait le complément tout désigné; cependant Menuhin tenait à enregistrer le Variations enigma. Son choix prévalut en dépit même de la réticence de Philips qui venait de l’inscrire à son catalogue avec André Previn à la tête du même Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Philips 416 813-2). Je me rendis à son désir car il me sembla que l’idée était encore mei1leire puisqu’il s’agissait d’une oeuvrè, importante et qu’ayant bien connu Elgar, Yehudi avait là quelque chose nous léguer. Par ailleurs, je ne, liç soucie pas d’être la seule vedette d’un disque quand le but premier est de trouver la meilleure façon de servir la musique d’abord.
Le disque russe Tchaikovski/Miaskovski/Chostakovitch emprunte la même démarche. li fut usé avec Maxime Chostakovitch (‘lé fils de Dimitri), ce qui, selon Llà9d Webber, en garantit l’authenticite. C’est d’ailleurs la partition de Nikolai Miaskovki qui lui révéla les qualités exceptionnelles d’un chef malheureusement sous-estimé.
Rappelons que Miaskovski fut l’auteur de 27 Symphonies; il acheva sort unique Concerto pour violoncelle en 1944 (six ans avant sa mort) à l’intention du violoncelliste Sviatolav Knushevitski, Même si d’aucuns taxeront cette musique d’académique”, il demeure qu’elle ne mérite pas in purgatoire qu’on lui a fait subir, considérant qu’elle nous entraîne fort heureusement hors des lieux communs de la littérature concertante pour violoncelle ordinairement en registrée.
Après Honegger et Miaskovski, Julian Lloyd Webber se propose de. ressortir des oubliettes le Concerto pour violoncelle que Paul Hindemith, écrivit en 1940 — à ne pas confondre, avec l’Opus 36/2, terminé én l9.5 Etant donné qu’on ne les joue pratiquement plus en concert, il espère que sès disques les ramèneront l’attention de chefs-d’orchestre qui les ajouteront à leur répertoire.
Voilà donc une façon intelligente de faire quelque chose d’utile. D’autant qu’ici, l’interprète possède une solide technique instrumentale belle compréhension des texte’ et une admirable sensibilité musicale.
The Courier Mail, Brisbane 19th August 1987
Elgar Cello Concerto
100 musicians make year’s best concert
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Menuhin; Lloyd Webber
By JOHN VILLAUME
‘The Dominion” Wellington – 13th August 1987
If the young Wagner’s first experience of Rossini’s William Tell Overture was anywhere near as gripping as last night’s performance by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, no wonder he called it “music of the future”.
The capacity audience in the Concert Hall of the Performing Arts Complex heard playing by nearly 100 musicians who, each and every one, didn’t really need the presence of so august a conductor as Sir Yehudi Menuhin.
The music came from within themselves needing no out-side prompting.
The first fortissimo was almost frightening in its intensity, yet the conductor was always persuasive, never demonstrative.
In fact, the term “attack” seems ludicrous to describe the quiet sound that made its presence fell rather than heard so often during the evening.
There was often a feeling that each phrase was flowing naturally from what went before – no such thing as a rigid beat appeared anywhere.
Brilliance in plenty was released where needed; the march in Tchaikovsky’s Paihc lie Symphony surged on to an irresistible climax.
The Elgar Cello Concerto received a magnificent performance from Julian Lloyd Webber, with perfect accompaniment by the orchestra.
We have had several recent performances of this work but last night’s reading set a standard and became an experience never to be forgotten.
Menuhin’s long association with Elgar bore rich fruit in this searching exploration of the composer’s deepest thoughts.
Many subtle turns of phrase, often overlooked by other aspirants, received their true value in Lloyd Webber’s hands.
For at least one listener, this was the finest concert of the year.
Luister November 1986
Elgar Cello Concerto
Excerpt from Dutch magazine “Luister” review in November 1986 in which Julian Lloyd Webber’s and Sir Yehudi Menuhin’s recent version of the Elgar Cello Concerto is compared to the re-release of Jacqueline du Pre’s with John Barbirolli.
…”What a contrast between the tough, masculine, cocky tone of the then 20-year-old Du Pre and the gentle, lyrical, warmly singing tone of Webber. Thanks to this difference, the meditative side of this concerto is given every chance by Webber and Menuhin; dramatics recede to the background. You need Du Pre and Barbirolli for that…yet that wonderfully self-contained and soul-searching interpretation by Menuhin and Webber – there is much to be said for that too. In any case, it gives the concerto a slightly sad, melancholy atmosphere, which certainly does not leave the listener unmoved…”
Music & Musicians October 1986
Elgar Cello Concerto
“Ably and sympathetically abetted by Menuhin, this performance combines character and fidelity, being sensitive, mercurial and moving by turns – a really integrated performance to which I will return again and again.”
Daily Telegraph 15th September 1986
Elgar Cello Concerto
The Cello Concerto receives an affectionate, true-to-the-score and altogether admirable performance from Julian Lloyd Webber with the RPO conducted by our senior Elgarian, Sir Yehudi Menuhin. Opinions differ as to Menuhin’s effectiveness as a conductor, but the results of this recording suggest that he has a mind of his own where this composer is concerned.
His performance of the Variations is no routine run-through. but a considered and sometimes controversial interpretation. I think he perhaps takes the theme too slowly, but at the same time, just listen to the nuances of string tone that he persuades from the KPO. Even in so competitive a field, this issue commands attention.
Gramophone July 1986
Elgar Cello Concerto
ELGAR Cello Concerto. Variations on an original theme, ‘Enigma”. Julian Lloyd Webber (vc);
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Yehudi Menuhin. Philips digital
There are some musicians, I am told, who question the abilities of Julian Lloyd Webber as a cellist and Menuhin as a conductor. That, I suppose, is part of the penalty of their name and fame, but it is none the less an unfair and unperceptive judgment which will gain no support from their recording of Elgar’s Cello Concerto. I prefer it to the recent Yo-Yo Ma Previn performance on CBS and I would risk a small wager that Elgar himself might have preferred it, because it takes note of his own description of the Concerto: “A real large work, and I think good and alive.” Its chief merit is that it projects the work’s emotional intensity without needing to resort to unauthorized extremes of tempo. Lloyd Webber may make the occasional ritardando where none is indicated, but he is otherwise conspicuously faithful to the letter of the score. Menuhin’s moderato tempo in the first movement is just right, it seems to me, sufficiently world-weary without sounding overcome by lassitude. The clarity of the recording, made in a comfortably resonant acoustic, ensures that the happy touches of orchestral detail are heard without undue prominence.
Menuhin’s account of the Variations lacks some of the finesse that distinguished Mackerras’s HMV recording, but it is the interpretation of a musician who has lived long with this music and loves it. He and the engineers have taken immense care with the timbre of the upper strings in the statement of the theme and there are several passages the prominence given to the lower strings in the middle section of “Dorabella”. for example where Menuhin directs the listener’s attention to yet another facet of this inexhaustibly fascinating score. Nothing ‘routine’ here, nor in the RPO’s playing. Michael Kennedy
The Japan Times 2nd November 1986
Elgar Cello Concerto/Lloyd Webber/Belohlavek
Speaking of Music…..
The Japan Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra’s subscription concert, conducted by Jiri Bclohlavek, introduced the English cellist, Julian Lloyd Webber, featuring cello concertos by Elgar and Haydn, concluding Hie evening with Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony (Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, Oct. 22).
Lloyd Webber presented a beautifully shaped and warmly toned account of Elgar’s exacting E minor Concerto. It was an intensely enjoyable performance, with playing of strong feeling, finely spun singing line, and, particularly in the slow movement, deep poetry. The orchestral accompaniment guided by Belohlavek had good spirit.
The Haydn Concerto in D major (Hob. VIlb/4) we heard on this occasion was a novelty – not the familiar one of 1783, but a work based on a cello-piano manuscript version discovered in 1943, from which Lloyd Webber made his own performing version tor cello and strings. Whether or not. this music is really by Haydn is yet to be established. But Lloyd Webber’s enthusiastic playing certainly made a favorable case for it. (There is a Philips recording of this work, coupled with the fine C major Concerto, another recent Haydn discovery, in which Lloyd Webber serves both as soloist and conductor of the English Chamber Orchestra).
By MARCEL GRILLI
The Strad July 1984
Elgar Cello Concerto
ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL, APRIL 29
LLOYD WEBBER (CELLO)/KENT COUNTY YOUTH ORCHESTRA/DE CSILLERY
BRAHMS, ELGAR, HOLST
Youth orchestras have a lot to give, and the Kent County Youth Orchestra is no exception. But despite Bela de Csillery’s long and close involvement with the orchestra, I wasn’t entirely convinced that he consistently drew the best from it. Brahms’ ‘Tragic’ Overture contained some very good playing, unanimous strings, solid trombones and heavenly oboe solos, but the conducting was sound rather than inspiring, creating no thrills in the lead back to the recapitulation, and the large string section was often underpowered. Nor did Csillery give the orchestra its head in Hoist’s Planets; tempos were fast, but not fast enough to generate excitement, and the more sustained movements lacked serenity. ‘I Vow to Thee, My Country’ had little old English grandeur.
Julian Lloyd Webber, doyen of the younger British cellists, was on superb form in Elgar’s Concerto, bringing his accustomed generosity of feeling to a work obviously very close to his heart. What distinguishes him from other cellists is that he so palpably plays with the orchestra, always with an ear to what is going on in the accompaniments. That said, I wonder what the performance would have been like with a more sympathetic conductor at the helm. The orchestral strings simply did not match Lloyd Webber’s phrasing when they took up the first subject (phrasing that young players should listen to and learn from). As in the Hoist the orchestral contribution was too homogenous, with neither fire nor repose, nor enough light and shade. A pity to have to present such young players in so unfavourable a light, as there was no doubt as to their collective talent and ability.
The Sunday Times 29th August 1976
Elgar Cello Concerto
Delights at Hereford
If neither as rose-red as Petra, nor quite as old as time,the sturdily elegant pile of Hereford Cathedral glowed a pleasant pink every balmy summer evening last week as we, the Three Choirs Festival faithful, poured out on to its parched lawns, Daily we enjoyed the usual mixture of ancient and modern, sacred and secular, in an atmosphere that is unique.
Some things belong to it, of course, as, for example, Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Beautifully played by Julian Lloyd Webber and the RPO under Donald Hunt, with every Elgarian rallentando and pause in place, it sounded like an emanation of the building itself.