Friday 7 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.

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