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The British Cello Phenomenon

Douglas Cameron/National Symphony Orchestra ROSSINI William Tell Overture (Part I) [3'22"]
John Barbirolli/Ethel Bartlett BACH Gamba Sonata BWV1027 Adagio [4'20"]
W.H. Squire/Hamilton Harty Benjamin GODARD Berceuse de Jocelyn [3'32"]
Beatrice Harrison/Orchestra/Eric Fenby DELIUS Elegy [3'19"]
Cedric Sharpe/Cecil Dixon POPPER Polonaise de Concert Op. 14 [3'43"]
Felix Salmond GRIEG To Spring [2'59"]
Lauri Kennedy/Dorothy Kennedy POPPER Hungarian Fantasy [4'29"]
Anthony Pini/Orchestra SAINT-SAËNS Softly Wakes My Heart from Samson and Dalila Op. 47 [2'54"]
Raymond Clark/Orchestra of the ROH, Covent Garden/Constant Lambert TCHAIKOVSKY Sleeping Beauty Op 66/ Vision Scene (Act II) [4'33"]
Reg Kilbey/Jack Byfield MASSENET Elégie [3'59"]
Denis Vigay/Academy of St Martins/Neville Marriner SUPPÉ Overture 'Morning, Noon and Night' (Part) [3'20"]
Alan Dalziel/John Constable FAURÉ Elégie [6'29"]
Thomas Igloi/Clifford Benson FAURÉ Sonata No. 2 Op. 117: Andante [6'08"]
Keith Harvey/Lynn Hendry DEBUSSY arr. HARVEY Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune [8'30"]
Jacqueline du Pré/Christopher Finzi/Newbury String Players RUBBRA Soliloquy [16'24"]
Norman Jones/Philharmonia/Gardelli VERDI Overture to 'I Masnadieri' (part) [4'24"]
Derek Simpson/Ernest Lush SCHUBERT Arpeggione Sonata: III Allegretto [9'53"]
Douglas Cummings BACH Suite in d BWV 1008 Allemande [4'10"]; Courante [2'36"]
Moray Welsh DUTILLEUX Strophe No. 3 [2’41"]
Chris van Kampen/Ian Brown JANÁČEK Pohadka III [3'46"]
Raphael Wallfisch/Lynn Hendry CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO Figaro [5'31"]
Colin Carr KODALY Solo Sonata Op. 8 Allegro molto vivace [11'39"]
Alexander Baillie/Dominic Harlan GLIÈRE Albumblätter: No.5 [2'31"]; No.12 [2'13"]
Robert Cohen/Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton WALTON Concerto: II Allegro appassionato [6'24"]
Steven Isserlis/Stephen Hough FAURÉ Après un Rêve [3'25"]
Tim Hugh HANDEL/HALVORSEN Theme and Variations [5'36"]
Clive Greensmith/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Carl Davis WOOD ‘Tom Bowling' from Fantasia on British Sea Songs [2'03"]
Paul Watkins/BBC Symphony Orchestra HOLST Invocation [9'53"]
Rec 1930s-1990s; mono/stereo
CELLO CLASSICS CC1010 [77.45+79.23]


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The crowded contents pages of this double set reads like an encyclopedia of British cellists ... or at least of those who were around during the era of recorded sound. It is not comprehensive; how could it be ... more of that later. Inevitably, given the time spanned, the quality of the recorded sound is disparate. Most of the 31 tracks derive from commercial recordings going back to the era of the 78. Sebastian Comberti, who has done so much work for the cello and cellists, must have faced a herculean task in getting all the necessary IPR clearances from Universal, EMI, Chandos, Hyperion, CRD, Cambridge Classics, GM Records, the BBC and the various artists. The end-product is well worth that effort.

The downside is that some tracks present only part of a work or part of a movement. The latter is the case with Norman Jones and the I Masnadieri and Denis Vigay and the Suppé overture. Complete movements from larger works are also used: Pleeth in the vivace flessibile from Rubbra's Cello Sonata, the allegretto from the Arpeggione (Derek Simpson), the allegro molto vivace from the Kodály unaccompanied sonata (Colin Carr) and Robert Cohen in the allegro appassionato of the Walton concerto.

English music plays a significant part here being represented by several complete works. Paul Watkins plays the Holst Invocation (a BBC broadcast). The Beatrice Harrison Delius Elegie (a popular title and mood among cello compositions) is already well known and has been issued many times. The newly discovered du Pré recording of Rubbra’s intense and haunting Soliloquy is the longest piece here at 16:24. It is no wonder that it receives front of booklet billing. A real coup, this!

Douglas Cameron's infinitely tender down-played prelude to the Tell Overture smiles out from the unfiltered surface burble. Clicks have been elided but continuous noise is still there. The same applies throughout. Barbirolli's Bach struck me as far from impressive as a performance - articulation seems smudgy. Hamilton Harty accompanies W H Squire in the Godard Berceuse in sound that has immediacy and a not at all displeasing sickle-edged vinegary definition - no difficulty with articulation here. The 1930s microphones seem to shy away from some of Harrison's notes in the Delius - did she turn from the microphone from time to time during the sessions, I wonder. Cedric Sharpe enjoys dullish sound in the Popper Polonaise which begins in a direct echo of Rachmaninov's song Powder and Paint (once wonderfully recorded by Plevitskaya). Salmond cozies up to Grieg's To Spring - a real smooch! I am only surprised that he sets such a fast pulse. Lauri Kennedy, Australian born (he recorded Edgar Bainton’s Cello Sonata for NGS, I think), returns to the Popper-fields for the soulful Hungarian Fantasy. His son John was in Beecham's RPO while his grandson is none other than Nigel Kennedy - the artist now known as 'Kennedy'.

Pini duets with a ripe but unnamed violinist and pianist in Softly Wakes My Heart. Both artists skid close to the sentimental sob but steer away at the last minute. Raymond Clark, Leeds-born and self-taught, famously stood in for a Fournier Don Quixote fixture with Karajan in Geneva. He here delivers a suavely rounded Vision Scene with the ROHO conducted by Constant Lambert. With the Kilbey track (Massenet) we at last emerge into the sunlit uplands of an almost silent background. In 1920, at the age of 13, he debuted with the Elgar concerto. He gives here a somnolent rather than soulful account but the tone is luxurious and nothing at all astringent crosses the listener’s ‘field of vision’.

Pleeth was Du Pré's teacher, a member of the Allegri Quartet and a frequent collaborator with Rubbra in various chamber concerts. It is a great shame that we could not have had the whole of the Rubbra (and I urge Mr Comberti to consider a separate full release). Pleeth and Rubbra give an affably lively yet feeling performance of the one movement - another of Rubbra's dancing collana musicale movements like its equivalents in the viola and piano concertos and in the Fifth Symphony. Alan Dalziel's name was unknown to me. His Faure Elégie is in a similar sombre-passionate curtilage to the Massenet but there is more variety and expressive interest than in the Kilbey sample.

Thomas Igloi's death in 1976 left a yawning gap. His BBC broadcasts and CRD recordings lit my early musical discoveries. Splendid tone, steely bow control and yielding emotional variety make him a very special player as is evident from the plucked out andante from Fauré No. 2. Keith Harvey, another to me unfamiliar name, turns in an extraordinary version of the Debussy. It is a technical and colouristic tour de force - testing in the extreme - and comparable in its achievement to Sorabji’s transcription of Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole. Harvey was a founder member of the Gabrieli Quartet so you may perhaps remember his CfP LPs from the 1970s including their Death and the Maiden. In addition we learn that he can be heard in the film scores for The French Lieutenant's Woman and Un Coeur en Hiver.

There is more Rubbra in the last track on CD1. This is a discovery, Jacqueline du Pré (one of only two women cellists featured on this collection) in the Rubbra Soliloquy, a work previously recorded on Lyrita by Rohan de Saram (I was sorry to see his name not included here - his wonderful broadcast of the Pfitzner first concerto and of the Bax Rhapsodic Ballad were extraordinary events) and by Raphael Sommer (another absentee) on a very sadly deleted all-Rubbra disc on Carlton BBC Radio Classics. Predictably du Pré digs deep into the soul-scape of this work that seems to speak of oppressive landscapes and doom (a solitary singer under a bleakly louring sky). This is the longest work here and draws you to this set making it a compulsory purchase for cello fanciers and British music enthusiasts alike. Christopher's Finzi's Newbury String Players are in very good heart, and although there is some evidence of tape age and less than perfect recording techniques this is unmissable. Are there more NSP tapes? I hope so. I would greatly value being able to hear more Finzi, Rubbra and Howells from the NSP archives.

In the notes we are reminded that this Rubbra performances took place just three months before her acclaimed Elgar concerto disc with Barbirolli. That EMI recording is remarkable but as a musical experience it lacks the smoking intensity of the live recording on Sony Classics made when Barenboim conducted the Philadelphia in 1970. I keep trumpeting that recording because it is something truly special and while the recording quality lacks the refinement and presence of the EMI studio version it a remarkably overpowering musical and emotional event. Don't miss it.

The second CD is packed even more tightly than the first. Norman Jones in the Verdi Prelude touches in, with tenderness, the arioso from I Masnadieri as does the similarly obscure (to me at least) Denis Vigay in the Suppé. Back in time we plunge into the busy surfaces that tactfully plague Derek Simpson's flowing Arpeggione movement. Douglas Cummings' two Bach morsels evince a masculine musculature, secure technique and confidence. The recording is suitably strong. Welsh's Dutilleux is full of fantastic colour and effect, virtuoso not only of the flying hands and fingers but also of colouristic infusion. Christopher van Kampen was very active in the contemporary field (I am sure I recall an extraordinary Maconchy Epyllion and Lutyens’ Winter of the World). The Janáček Pohadka reminds us of Van Kampen's ineffable cantabile line, evident at 1.38 onwards. Raphael Wallfisch's Figaro by Castelnuovo-Tedesco is fantastic and displays a sense of humour not often associated with the cello.

Colin Carr with plenty of chesty tone and lickety-split technique strides masterfully through the Kodály sonata's allegro molto vivace - one of the peaks of the repertoire leaving the technique of the cellist pitifully exposed. Carr passes the test with élan and style. Baillie gets two Glière Albumblätter (rather like Rachmaninov here) to sing through. Robert Cohen's tone in the Walton is precise, razor accurate and full of rapid-fire repartee with the orchestra. Isserlis's soft-focus, cloaked tone makes for a memorable Fauré. Tim Hugh grips our lapels with a close-up recording (the equivalent of the insistent Ancient Mariner in its undeniability) in the Handel/Halvorsen. The Clive Greensmith track is the singing Tom Bowling - not a dry eye in the house.

Lastly comes more English music in the shape of Holst’s noble Invocation (also recorded by Alexander Baillie on Lyrita and premiered by Julian Lloyd Webber in a 1983 BBC broadcast with Norman del Mar and the BBC Symphony Orchestra). A shame that, in the booklet, the conductor of the BBCSO is shown as ‘Andrew Davies’ rather than Andrew Davis. This is however a small blemish which I am sure Mr Comberti will correct on reissue.

Cello Classics continues to surprise us. It is now getting to stage where I begin to think that issues of long-gone historic broadcasts might be a possibility. If he is looking for suggestions here are mine. Someone should rescue the superb Foulds Cello Sonata which Moray Welsh broadcast with Ronald Stevenson in 1979. It is an extraordinary work given an incandescent performance glorying in the works eerie strangeness and it joyous melodies. Welsh also gave the premiere of the Lennox Berkeley Cello Concerto in 1983. It proved a most resilient and dramatic work (rather like his volatile and equally early Nocturne for orchestra) with none of the lighter and occasionally bland Gallic echoes that came to predominate in his mature works. Mr Comberti should also look for a good copy of the BBC 1970s studio session of the Frank Bridge Oration in which Thomas Igloi was partnered by the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Frederick Prausnitz. Perhaps he could rescue Raphael Wallfisch’s more recent broadcast of the Foulds Cello Concerto. Further back in time I believe that Christopher Bunting’s premiere of the Finzi Cello Concerto may have survived (perhaps with the Finzi family). Again it would be good to have that historic and biographically poignant event on CD. How about Alexander Baillie’s 1980s broadcast of the Howells’ Fantasia for cello and Orchestra (BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Norman del Mar)? Lastly we should not forget Igloi’s intense performance of the Arnold Cooke Cello Concerto with Charles Groves and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

There are real riches here as must be apparent. It must have been very satisfying task, though thankless, to make the selections. Why thankless? There are omissions. It was not possible across two extremely well filled discs to cover all the significant British names. I lament the omission of something from Rohan de Saram (now if someone could only find that superbly singing BBC broadcast of the Pfitzner First Cello Concerto), Amaryllis Fleming, Eileen Croxford, Raphael Sommer, Florence Hooton, Julian Lloyd-Webber and Chris Bunting. Perhaps there is room for a volume 2? Let’s see how well this set goes. It certainly deserves a place in your collection and is attractively priced.

There is an admirably thorough twenty page commentary covering every musician featured. This is the work of Michael James. There are also notes by Sebastian Comberti. The booklet amounts to an encylopedia of English cellists.

Cello enthusiasts as well as young and aspiring players, Du Pré collectors and British music fans will find this set packed with discoveries; absolutely fascinating.

Rob Barnett

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