There’s a certain inevitability that this CD will sell like the proverbial hot cakes. A punning title, a programme of mainly reflective music, much of it popular, arranged for two cellos by a star cellist and performed by him, his photogenic wife, and joined on some of the tracks by rising young stars, including a BBC Young Musician of the Year (cellist Lauren van der Heijden), how could it not? Indeed, it entered the UK Classical CD chart almost from its release and only a stream of Christmas recordings pushed it down the list to No.9 as I write (early December), so it’s almost irrelevant for me to write about it.
The programme is undeniably attractive, if somewhat unvaried in manner: Moon Silver by Julian Lloyd Webber’s father William (track 9) is fairly typical of the reflective music on offer. It’s an attractive little piece, too, so there’s no question of family bias in its choice. There’s a key word there, however - little - and there’s nothing substantial to get your teeth into on this CD, with the Monteverdi arrangement at just under five minutes the longest work on offer.
For the Monteverdi on track 3, the two cellists are joined by a third and a harp: the Lloyd Webbers play the part of the two tenor voices and their partners take the continuo. The result is undeniably beautiful and, with my love of modern arrangements of baroque music by the likes of Respighi, I should enjoy it, but I found myself resisting it as I would sticky toffee and I had to turn to a recording of the original madrigal, Interrotte speranze, eterna fide, from Book VII, to remind myself of the real power of the music.
I’ve criticised the group Delitiæ Musicæ for being unduly slow in Monteverdi’s madrigals and their performance of this on Naxos 8.555314/6 sets no speed records (4:08 against 4:41 on A Tale of Two Cellos), but it’s both more powerful and more stylish than the Lloyd Webber arrangement. Turn to La Venexiana (Glossa GCD920927) who take just 2:38 without sounding at all perfunctory and the arranged version sounds even more gooey in contrast. If you have access to the Naxos Music Library you can try the Lloyd Webber recording for yourself and make your own comparison with the two versions of the Monteverdi original that I’ve mentioned.
Similarly, Roger Quilter’s arrangement of Greensleeves already slows the pace of the original but the performance here (track 6) makes it sound almost funereal. This time it’s not just a matter of timings - Quilter’s original setting is no faster but there’s an urgency to the phrasing that gives the music more impetus. Try another Naxos recording, again from Naxos Music Library, on an album of Quilter’s song arrangements, 8.557495: Bargain of the Month - review.
I’m beginning to sound like a pedantic purist, so let me say in mitigation that there is much here that I did enjoy. You won’t be surprised if I say that it’s the few livelier pieces that I enjoyed most, so that after the opening rather sugary Ave Maria, Piazzolla’s Little Beggar Boy on the next track caught my attention. It’s not up-tempo at all, more redolent of smoke-filled Argentinean bars, but the music encourages the performers not to wallow. It’s also the case that Piazzolla’s music lends itself to manifold arrangements that don’t include his own instrument the bandoneón.
The Gadfly music, too, has been presented in a variety of arrangements, including for cello and piano; the performance here is only a little on the slow side compared with another Naxos recording of the original orchestra Suite (8.553299) and I enjoyed this, too (track 4).
I didn’t mind Rubinstein tugging at the heart strings on track 7 and I greatly enjoyed the Slavonic charm of Dvořák on the next track and the arrangements of two other Moravian Duets on tracks 12 and 16. Nor did I find the Dolorosa from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater (track 11) out of place when the original is meant to be emotive. The Arvo Pärt final track is as beguiling as any of his music.
The notes, though in minuscule type, are informative and the recording is good throughout.
If I could have my choice of tracks from this CD - about half - I’d want to listen to it more often. You can make such a choice if you download the album from Naxos’s home site, classicsonline.com but there’s a paradox here in that the complete album costs £4.99 (mp3) or £5.99 (lossless flac) whereas choosing ten of the 21 tracks would cost almost twice that amount at £0.79 per track. Either way, Naxos CDs, though far from the super bargains that they used to be, are inexpensive enough to buy even for the sake of half their content.
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921) Ave Maria [3:00]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992) Chiquillin de Bachin (The Little Beggar Boy) (arr. John Lenehan) [3:55]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643) Interrotte speranze (Madrigals VII)*/** [4:41]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Prelude from The Gadfly [3:22]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934) Hymn to the Dawn (arr. from Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda, for four cellos and harp)*/**/† [3:56]
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953) My Lady (‘Greensleeves’) [2:57]
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894) The Angel [3:16]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904) The Harvesters [1:50]
William LLOYD WEBBER (1914-1982) Moon Silver [2:21]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Sommerruh, WoO7 (Summer Calm) [3:25]
Giovanni PERGOLESI (1710-1736) Dolorosa from Stabat Mater* [3:22]
Antonín DVO Ř ÁK Autumn Lament [3:33]
Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947) Si mes vers avaient des ailes(If my songs were only winged) [2:31
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) The Waves are dreaming [2:55]
Henry PURCELL (1658-1695) Lost is my quiet for ever, Z502* [2:41]
Antonín DVOŘÁK The Modest Lass [2:18]
Robert SCHUMANN Evening Star [2:31]
Ethelbert NEVIN (1862-1901) O that we two were maying [2:31]
Joseph BARNBY (1838-1896) Sweet and Low [2:31]
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953) Summer Sunset [2:21]
Arvo PÄRT (b.1935) Estonian Lullaby [2:46]