Fanfare June 1997
BRITISH CELLO MUSIC, Volume I & II
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.
Musical Times February 1988
Julian Lloyd Webber continues his admirable championship of British cello music with a disc specifically so titled (ASV DCA 592). Two of the works have John McCabe as firm and sensitive pianist; the rest are unaccompanied. The Rawsthorne duo sonata of 1949 is a deeply felt, beautifully crafted work. The solemnity of the opening Adagio gives place to powerful drama, with both instruments at full stretch. But it is John Ireland’s unpretentious yet subtle carol of 1913, The Holy Boy, that best shows off Lloyd Webber’s plangent tone, so urgent and appealing.
The longest of the unaccompanied works, and the most recent, is Malcolm Arnold’s Fantasy (1987). The eloquence of the opening (and closing) Andantino and a pair of darkly serious Lentos is happily contrasted with a playful March and Serenade. The work is instantly attractive without being superficial. The Walton Passacaglia of 1982 was written for Rostropovich and has a fine virtuoso buildup after prolonged initial growling. Perhaps more telling is a tiny declamatory piece Britten wrote at the end of his life (1976) to honour Paul Sacher’s 70th birthday and enshrine the musical letters of his name. Lloyd Webber has given a sterling performance of a body of music that never fails to be worthy.
The Guardian 15th December 1987
Malcolm Arnold Cello Music
Edward Greenfield on Malcolm Arnold’s cello premiere ‘Love notes’
MALCOLM ARNOLD, colourful and prolific among British composers, has been losing out on both those qualities in recent years. But here, in the Fantasy for solo cello he has written for Julian Lloyd Webber he has bounced back with a work generous and direct, exuberant in the way it draws out all the richest and warmest qualities of the instrument. This is a composer, one infers from every note, who loves the cello.
It was good to have Lloyd Webber’s world premiere in his recital at Wigmore Hall anticipated by an equally fine recording, already available from ASV. Not that with Arnold’s Fantasy you need the sort of intensive preparation that many of today’s composers seem to demand for their new works.
Arnold, the supreme professional, has managed to write music which gives the soloist plenty of chances to show off effectively without posing thorny technical problems.
Where so many solo cello works from Bach onwards are gritty with double-stopped chords that try to imitate a full orchestra, Arnold in his seven brief linked movements puts the emphasis on warmly lyrical writing.
Lloyd Webber responded accordingly, pointing up the sharp contrasts of tone and dynamic that Arnold has marked to avoid blandness, biting hard on the vigorous writing in the central AlIa Marcia.
So graceful a work, I am sure, will quickly become a favourite with cellists badly needing solo music that exploits the instrument without either sawing off players’ fingers or listeners’ ears.
For the rest of his recital, Lloyd Webber was accompanied by Peter Pettinger in music for cello and piano.
The ardour of the performance of the Arnold led at once to an equally resonant and dramatic account of Beethoven’s last Cello Sonata, opus 102 no. 2, sometimes counted a problem work but not here.
Beethoven in this context seemed to tower over anything the 20th century could offer – even the Debussy Sonata – cryptic, compressed, made to sound in Lloyd Webber’s gutsy performance almost as English as the pieces by Bridge and Rawsthorne with which he surrounded it.
The Financial Times 15th December 1987
Malcolm Arnold Cello Music
Julian Lloyd Webber’s afternoon recital at the Wigmore Hall on Sunday, with pianist Peter Pettinger, brought the first performance of Malcolm Arnold’s Fantasy for solo cello, along with sonatas by Beethoven and Debussy and some other English items. Frank Bridge’s Scherzetto for cello and piano was played, and his haunting little Elegie. Alan Rawsthorne’s Sonata of 1949 made a powerful impression with its cogent argument and dipped manner of muical speech: Rawsthorne has a marvellous way of taking stock neo-romantic rhetoric, stripping a way all that is fleshy and false about it, and presenting us with a discourse which is very subtly arresting. Peter Pettinger had rather more to do in this sonata of equals than just give the cellist support, and his solo passages were shapely and striking. Lloyd Webber’s performance was articulate, impassioned, large-toned, persuasive.
The Arnold new work, his Opus 130 no less (though he has not latterly been producing as copiously as of old), is extremely attractive, quite short, and wholly unpretentious: a continuous unfolding of seven little sections, each vividly characterised and concisely written. Th opening Andantino (reprised at the end as the’ seventh section) is broad and declamatory. The following Vivace sports a funny bouncy rhythm remminiscent of “Half a pound of tuppenny rice” which is immediately clut off each time it appears by a mournful lyrical phrase – the effect is peculiar, pointful and, although small-scale, distinctively Arnoldian. The Lento is melodius and, again, mournful (here I thought of the tune of one of the sadder Brahms Hungarian Dances). Next comes a march, then an affecting pizzicato sernade, then another Lento, one ofstrange melancholy, and finally the opening again, which returns satisfyingly and with, of course, changed significance. The Fantasy is a memorable and rather tearful little opus, a perfect gift to cellists of even average ability: Lloyd Webber’s virtuosity was scarcely taxed by it, but he did it proud.
The Daily Telegraph 1987
Malcolm Arnold Cello Fantasy – A Gesture of Friendship
EARLIER this year, when Alan Poulton published his comprehensive catalogue of Malcolm Arnold’s works, it brought home to many of us that Arnold’s contribution to 20th-century music has been far wider than the relatively few performances would seem to indicate.
It is not all that often these days that one has the opportunity to hear in concert much else besides the familiar “Tam O’Shanter”, the English Dances and the Three Shanties. But Arnold has been a prolific composer for more than half a century, ever since that first piano march, “Haile Selassie”, was rejected by Boosey & Hawkes.
Arnold has now reached his Op.130, a Fantasy for solo cello, which was given its world premiere by Julian Lloyd Webber at the Wigmore Hall on Sunday afternoon. As a former orchestral player himself, Arnold has always been a sympathetic, but none the less challenging, instrumental composer. Brass and woodwind have attracted his particular attention (he was principal trumpet of the LPO), but it appears that this is only his second piece focusing on the cello (he wrote a Cello Duo in 1965).
The Fantasy is fairly short, just over a quarter-of-an-hour, but the ‘concentration of idea is in itself intriguing, the exploitation of cello timbre resourceful but, again, indicative of an affinity with the instrument’s “natural” voice, as he has called it. Not for him any distorting antics and scrubbing around above the bridge. This sounds like real cello music written for the cello.
Structurally, it is well proportioned, too, with a recurrence at the end of the bold, striding theme of the beginning, and in between an uninterrupted sequence of spontaneous invention (a brisk march, a jumpy vivace, a pizzicato serenade of arpeggios, a sighing lento) which draws its character from the cello’s own sound quality and, for all its ease of flow, has a feeling of taut, considered planning. Arnold has always enjoyed ‘communicating through music’, which he has called a “social act” and “a gesture of friendship”. This new piece certainly shows that he remains resolute in that principle.