Notes and Editorial Reviews
Cello Concerto No. 1
Jamie Walton (vc); Alexander Briger, cond; Philharmonia O
SIGNUM 220 (56:15)
With a spate of recent releases, Jamie Walton has rapidly risen in the ranks of today’s leading cellists. Two of those recordings—one of cello works by Saint-Saëns, and a second of the Elgar and Myaskovsky concertos—received positive notices from me in
29:6 and 32:1. I’ve also provisionally flagged for inclusion on my 2011 Want List a third CD of sonatas by Brahms, Strauss, and Thuille, not yet published at the time of this writing. Henry Fogel, however, received a copy of the same disc and beat me to the punch with a positive notice in 34:4. And Paul Ingram gave an approving nod in 33:1 to Walton’s recording of Britten’s Cello Symphony and Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 2.
Here we have Jamie Walton’s take on the first of Shostakovich’s two cello concertos, the No. 1 in E?. Shostakovich didn’t get around to writing a concerto for cello until 1959 at the age of 53. By then, he’d already written his two piano concertos, the first of his two violin concertos, all but the last four of his 15 symphonies, and much else of his large and significant output. The famous cellist and composer’s good friend Mstislav Rostropovich was the stimulus for the concerto, as he would be again seven years later for the second concerto. But inspiration for the work, according to Shostakovich himself, was Prokoviev’s Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, for which Rostropovich was also the dedicatee.
Shostakovich’s concerto is oddly scored; with a lone French horn being the only brass instrument called for in the orchestration, the work might almost be called a chamber concerto. Its formal structure is also unusual. Nominally, the piece is in four movements, the first of which the composer described as a “jocular march,” but movements 2 through 4 are played without a break, as if they were one. Moreover, the third movement, marked “Cadenza,” is exactly that, an extended virtuoso display piece quite similar in manner to the gradually accelerating cadenza in the A-Minor Violin Concerto.
William Walton’s Cello Concerto, composed in 1956, was also dedicated to a famous cellist, Gregor Piatigorsky. Its performance on the current disc, however, is not one you will hear in Piatigorsky’s 1957 recording with Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony or, for that matter, any other recording; for Jamie Walton and Alexander Briger have here recorded the world premiere of the composer’s 1974 revision of the last movement. And in case you don’t care for it, they have provided as a bonus track at the end of the disc a performance of the original 1956 finale. The difference is in the 22-bar ending that, at Piatigorski’s request, Walton substituted for the original so as to conclude the work on a more upbeat note. Unfortunately, Piatigorski did not live to publicly perform the revision, and subsequent generations of cellists, at least on recordings, have stuck to the original version of the score.
Necessarily, a certain cachet attaches to the performances of a work by an artist who knew the composer personally and for whom the work was written. Such is the case for the Shostakovich concerto and Rostropovich. How many times his performances of the piece were captured on recordings I’m not exactly sure, but I’m aware of at least six: with Rozhdestvensky twice, once with the Moscow Philharmonic and again with the Leningrad Philharmonic live at the Edinburgh Festival in 1961; with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1959; with Ozawa and the London Symphony Orchestra; with Groves and the LSO live in 1961 on DVD; and with Oistrakh and the Moscow State Philharmonic live in 1965.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that other artists needn’t bother; many have, and happily so. Among the younger crop of cellists, Daniel Müller-Schott and Ha-Na Chang have made very strong impressions on me in this as well as other repertoire. I recently heard Chang live in a performance of the Elgar concerto with the Vancouver Symphony, and I was swept away by her. Among the veterans, Ma’s 1982 recording with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra remains a touchstone.
There are fine recordings of Walton’s concerto as well. Just as with Rostropovich’s performances of the Shostakovich, Piatigorski’s RCA recording with Munch and the BSO might be regarded as definitive. But again Ma with Previn and the LSO and Müller-Schott with Previn and the Oslo Philharmonic are very strong contenders. I have a special fondness for the Müller-Schott recording because it’s coupled with an exceptionally fine account of the Elgar concerto, something I alluded to in my 32:1 review of Jamie Walton’s recording of the Elgar and Myaskovsky concertos.
The Walton field may not be quite as crowded as the Shostakovich field is, but it’s distinguished by some outstanding entries. Jamie Walton enters both arenas here well equipped and well prepared, giving us superb accounts of both concertos. His technique is solid and his musical instincts sound. If I don’t find these readings quite as riveting as those mentioned above, I believe it has more to do with Alexander Briger, the youngish-looking Australian conductor who manages these scores in a skillful manner, but who doesn’t yet seem to have quite the depth of insight into this music as do Ormandy and especially Previn.
Here then is a case of a fine recording that I could easily recommend,
there were no significant competition to contend with. But there is, and some of it is very significant indeed. As an optional complement then to one or more of the aforementioned versions, I’m happy to welcome this new release. Remember too that this recording does offer something unique in the way of the revised ending to the Walton concerto.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Cello by Sir William Walton
Jamie Walton (Cello)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1956/1974; England
Concerto for Cello no 1 in E flat major, Op. 107 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Jamie Walton (Cello)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1959; USSR
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