Vivaldi Concertos for Two Cellos

Music Web December 2014

Vivaldi Concertos for Two Cellos

Concertos for two Cellos, RV 531, plus various arrs by J Lloyd Webber

Julian & Jiaxin Lloyd Webber (cello); European Union ChamberOrchestra/Hans-Peter Hofmann

Naxos 8.573374 62.31 mins

I had the good fortune to hear the first concerto RV532, arranged from one for two mandolins, on Radio 3 and was very impressed. It was delightful therefore to receive this disc for review and to have my original very positive impression endorsed. The disc has an added distinction, as sadly it will be Julian Lloyd Webber’s last recording due to a neck injury.

The disc begins with RV532 and this sets the high standard for what is to come. If one had doubts as to arranging the distinctive sound of mandolins to cellos then these are dispelled immediately. The playing, throughout, is very accomplished and sensitive and very well captured by the engineers. The success of an arrangement is surely not to feel the instrumentation is incorrect and this is the case here. RV531 follows which is the only one originally written for two cellos and was at a lower level of inspiration than the first piece. Fortunately RV409, originally written for one cello follows and this is an exciting piece with changes of tempo in the middle movement. The finale showcases Lloyd Webber’s expertise on the instrument and signposts the way for Haydn’s concerto a generation later.

RV545 is a most appealing work with the first movement originally destined for the instrumentation in a cantata. The arrangement from oboe to bassoon is seamless and again showcases the fine playing of the soloists; those who listen to the countless versions of the Four Seasons should definitely give this a listen. RV539 was originally conceived for two horns. This is a delightful piece with the cellos’ imitation of hunting calls in the outer movements. The lullaby nature of the middle movement is very touching articulated by restrained playing and sympathetic accompaniment. RV812 was only discovered less than ten years ago. This was originally written for violin and the arrangement for two cellos again works well even if the piece is not as distinguished as some of the others here.

The final item is an arrangement of a Milonga (tango dance) from Piazzolla’s Concerto for Bandoneon — a type of concertina — and Guitar. To say that this is a contrast to what’s come before is an understatement. The plaintive melody is well suited to the cello and as throughout the playing is first class: a most effective and original way to end this disc.

This is undoubtedly a successful disc which will appeal to many, especially at Naxos price. Perhaps not to be taken in one sitting but a couple of the concertos at a time. It is sad if this is to be Julian Lloyd Webber’s last record but if it is, he is signing off in some style.

David R Dunsmore

BBC Music Magazine December 2014

Vivaldi Concertos for Two Cellos



Concertos for two Cellos, RV 531, plus various arrs by J Lloyd Webber

Julian & Jiaxin Lloyd Webber (cello); European Union ChamberOrchestra/Hans-Peter Hofmann

Naxos 8.573374 62.31 mins

A Baroque composer’s stock-in-trade was to adapt music for particular resources. Vivaldi was no exception to this practice, but these adaptations are not by him but by cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. Giving much thought to the propriety of his arrangements, Lloyd Webber has explored both tonal and register issues. The results are convincing – you may be surprised at how idiomatic these pieces sound in their freshly conceived colours.

The only work here in its original scoring is the well-known Concerto for two cellos and strings, RV 531. Otherwise, Lloyd Webber has arranged for two cellos Vivaldi’s Concerto for two mandolins, RV 532; for two horns, RV 539; for oboe and bassoon, RV 545; for cello and bassoon, RV 409; and a recently discovered Concerto for violin (or oboe) and cello, RV 812. Lloyd Webber’s wife, Jiaxin, plays second cello; both musicians articulate lightly and with pleasingly sharp definition. Their intonation is well-nigh impeccable and their warmly coloured timbre a constant delight. Lloyd Webber ends the programme with his arrangement of Milonga, from Astor Piazzolla’s Concerto for Bandoneon and Guitar. All is sympathetically complemented by the strings of the European Union Chamber Orchestra.

Nicholas Anderson

The Classical Reviewer 7th November 2014

Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber reveal, in their often intimate approach, so many of Vivaldi’s beauties on their new release from Naxos

It was at the age of sixteen that Julian Lloyd Webber won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, later completing his studies in Geneva with the renowned cellist, Pierre Fournier.

Since then his career has been colossal, working with such artists as Yehudi Menuhin, Lorin Maazel and Georg Solti as well as to Elton John and Stephane Grappelli. He has premiered more than sixty works for cello and has inspired new compositions from composers such as Joaquin Rodrigo, Malcolm Arnold, Philip Glass, James MacMillan and Eric Whitacre.

It is only now that an injury has forced Lloyd Webber to retire from playing. This makes a new release from Naxos especially poignant. Here he is joined by his cellist wife, Jiaxin Lloyd Webber in a programme mainly consisting of Concertos for Two Cellos arranged by Julian Lloyd Webber from various other concertos by Vivaldi. The European Union Chamber Orchestra is conducted by Hans Peter Hofmann

This new disc opens with Vivaldi’s Concerto in G major, RV 532 originally for two mandolins. There is a lightness and grace to Vivaldi’s orchestral introduction to the Allegro with Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber weaving some beautifully intricate phrases with some nicely judged dynamics. The Andante is most affective with the two cellists weaving a lovely, slow flowing melody, these artists finding much sensitivity and poetry with a fine rhythmic pulse from the orchestra. There is a nicely paced orchestral opening to the Allegro with some lovely interplay between these two soloists. The rhythmic phrases still bring the mandolin to mind but this is a very effective arrangement. More presence for the soloists would have been welcome though the natural placing of the soloists within the orchestra does provide an attractive intimacy.

The one Vivaldi work on this disc originally intended for two cellos is his Concerto in G minor, RV 531 which a fine incisive opening to the Allegro with some fine playing from these soloists. There is a lovely languid Largo with the Lloyd Webbers slowly and gently revealing a romantic warmth particularly in the descending passages and a tender orchestral accompaniment with the attractive harpsichord continuo clearly heard. The Allegro has a buoyant orchestral opening soon followed by equally buoyant, rich textured playing from these two cellists. There is an attractive orchestral transparency as well as some great ensemble and interplay from the two soloists and orchestra.

Vivaldi’s Concerto in E minor, RV 409 was originally written for one cello but as the two cellists open the first movement Adagio – Allegro one can immediately hear that this arrangement is very finely done. Just listen to how the two cello lines work so well with some finely done orchestral contributions. One can also hear a different placement of the two solo cellos which helps the sound enormously. The Allegro brings fast and furious solo playing, nicely done by these two players and with the European Union Chamber Orchestra providing the perfect foil. There is some terrific playing in the Allegro yet with a lovely mellow tone.

Julian Lloyd Webber’s arrangement of Vivaldi’s Concerto in G major, RV 545 originally for oboe and bassoon opens with an Andante molto full of brilliance and joy, yet nicely paced with a lovely buoyancy and a lovely chamber intimacy to the playing. The Largo in particular has an intimacy that works so well. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so much feeling extracted from a Vivaldi concerto. The Allegro molto brings more fast and furious playing combined with some lovely longer finely woven phrases, full of character.

There is a nicely crisp orchestral introduction to the Allegro of Vivaldi’s Concerto in F major, RV 539, originally for two horns, to which these soloists bring a singing quality as well as some nicely crisp phrasing. The Larghetto has a rhythmic gentle sway, giving the feel of a lullaby, with these two players providing a lovely texture, blending finely with the orchestra. The Allegro has a nice rise and fall as these artists observe every dynamic.

The final Vivaldi work on this disc is his Concerto in G minor, RV 812, originally for violin and cello or oboe and cello. Here the two cellos of Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber bring a bright and breezy feel to the Allegro combined with a bright and buoyant orchestral sound. There are some especially lovely textures from the soloists as well as some lovely lifts to the phrases. The coda is hauntingly beautiful. There is a lovely Largo cantabile as the two cellists weave the melody with a continuo accompaniment in this movement so finely played. The soloists blend so well in this final Allegro cantabile with a fine interplay with the orchestra, drawing some lovely phrases.

Something of a novelty to end the disc is Milonga from Astor Piazzolla’s (1921-1992) Concerto for Bandoneon and Guitar. This is a richly attractive work with a lovely dance rhythms and a terrific flow. The buoyant rhythms and lovely Latin atmosphere are all underpinned by a terrific bass line with these two players doing a really terrific job blending with the subtle orchestral accompaniment.

These players reveal, in their often intimate approach, so many of Vivaldi’s beauties that are often lost when glossed over. A little more presence for the soloists would have been welcome as, in all but the concerto RV409 and the Piazzolla, the recording sets the two soloists back within the orchestra giving a rather intimate sound.

There are excellent notes from Julian Lloyd Webber.

Bruce Reader

Mail on Sunday September 28th 2014

Vivaldi Concertos for Two Cellos

Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber

This is Julian’s final recording as a cellist, now that a neck injury has reduced the strength of his bowing arm, and it’s a fittingly imaginative one.

In recent times Julian has taken great joy in arranging music for two cellos so he could play with his wife Jiaxin. Last year A Tate Of Two Cellos, also on Naxos, featured arrangements by Julian for two cellos and piano.

On this one, there are six Vivaldi concertos for two cellos, with the EU Chamber Orchestra, though only one of them was actually written for this combination.

The rest have been rearranged by Julian from pieces for solo instruments as diverse as two mandolins, and two hunting horns.

Vivaldi was of course a pragmatist, regularly rearranging his own music, so there’s nothing for purists to rail against here. Instead we should just enjoy some fine playing by the Lloyd Webbers, tinged with sadness that this is the final fruit of Julian’s long and distinguished career.

David Mellor

Birmingham Post 21st October 2010

Vivaldi Double Cello Concerto

Orchestra of the Swan, at Birmingham Town Hall

The Orchestra of the Swan has fine-tuned its act to such a pitch of perfection that it would be very difficult to find any ways in which it could improve the presentation of its concerts.

Its opening concert of its third season as artists-in-residence at Birmingham Town Hall displayed so many qualities: an informal, audience-embracing pre-concert discussion from the stage; a cleverly-constructed programme combining the little-known (including contemporary with a human face) with the well-loved; a remarkable standard of performance and conducting (David Curtis); and the appearance of two wonderful soloists, cellist husband-and-wife Mr and Mrs Julian Lloyd Webber.

And the result of all this was a packed auditorium last Wednesday afternoon, embracing all age-groups, including those who whether because of age or disability are reluctant to brave the city centre in the evening.

Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba,lively and expectant, was reflected in Alec Roth’s sad, tender Departure of the Queen of Sheba. Over camel-clopping string accompaniments, oboe (Victoria Brawn) and cor anglais (Louise Braithwaite) intertwine in an erotic and regretful farewell, before Sheba the oboe reluctantly leaves the stage. The piece drew huge applause.

A well-established “Farewell” came with Haydn’s Symphony no. 45, tautly delivered, not least its quirky Minuet movement, and then, during the gracious coda to the finale, wittily accommodating space for the gracious departure of instrumentalists turn by turn (Haydn’s musicians had wanted to go back home to Vienna), and even the conductor, leaving two forlorn violinists to turn the lights out.

As for the soloists, Julian Lloyd Webber evidently enjoyed his crisp and lyrical chamber music-like collaboration with his orchestral colleagues in Haydn’s C major Cello Concerto.

He was joined by Jiaxin Cheng in Vivaldi’s dark, earthy G minor Concerto for two cellos, and what a tremendous, like-minded and like-articulating couple they made — and this particular partnership was their first in public together.

Stratford Herald October 2010

Vivaldi Double Cello Concerto

Orchestra of the Swan, at Stratford Civic Hall

Newly-wed cellists play as if they’ve been together for a lifetime.

Not only has he gone on board as an associate artist but as featured guest soloist for the opening concert on Tuesday last week at Stratford Civic Hall, he set a standard that will be hard to live up to for the rest of the series (apart from when he returns to play in February).

An obvious sell-out, the concert opened with Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba – although beautifully performed it was a precursor for the genius that was to follow.

Taking on Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C, Mr Lloyd Webber was not only cornfortable with his performance, but comfortable with an orchestra he has not previously performed with in his current role. He naturally brought out his virtuosity, bowing to all of the highs and lows with great staccato showmanship.

The spirited ending made way for Alec Roth’s Departure of the Queen of Sheba, a piece played with great passion depicting the parting of these two legendary lovers by the orchestra. Regular musicians with the orchestra, oboeists Victoria Brawn and Louise Braithwaite, showed their musical prowess.

The concert theme was based around the departure and arrival of the Queen of Sheba – lively and expectant at the start, turning into sad and passionate at the end.

Many local music-lovers have met cellist Ms Cheng, but at the concert last week they were privileged enough to hear them play together for the first time in Vivaldi’s Double Cello Concerto in G, delivering a piece that was mind-blowing as if they had played together for a lifetime.

The evening fittingly ended with one of Haydn’s “wittiest symphonies” according to conductor and orchestra artistic director David Curtis – Haydn’s Symphony No 45, Farewell.

As the musicians forlornly left the platform one at a time, they received a well-deserved applause in recognition of a great start to what will hopefully be an exciting seven-concert series.

The next concert in the Orchestra of the Swan’s new Tuesday Classic season, ‘Vaughan Williams – an English Fantasia’, takes place in Stratford Civic Hall on 16th November. It has to be said that Stratford’s Orchestra of the Swan pulled off its finest seasonal opening to date this year when Julian Lloyd Webber performed for the first time in Stratford with his wife of 15 months, fellow cellist Jiaxin Cheng.

Review by Sandy Holt