Monday, 8 December 2014

A new release from Lyrita entitled British Cello Concertos features works by John Joubert, Robert Simpson and Christopher Wright superbly performed by Raphael Wallfisch and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by William Boughton

Founded by Richard Itter (1928-2014) a businessman and record collector, Lyrita Recorded Edition first began releasing LPs in October 1959 by mail order subscription. Specializing in the works of British composers the first records were of piano music by such composers as Arnold Bax, Gordon Jacob, E.J. Moeran and Michael Tippett.

In time the success of these recordings enabled the catalogue to be expanded into orchestral and symphonic works including composers neglected at the time such as William Alwyn, Malcolm Arnold, Havergal Brian, Frank Bridge, Arnold Cooke, Gerald Finzi, John Foulds, George Lloyd, Edmund Rubbra, Humphrey Searle and Cyril Rootham.

In 1990 Lyrita began issuing CDs featuring a small selection of their back catalogue, a few newly recorded items, and recordings licensed from other sources. It wasn’t until 2006 that Wyastone Estate Ltd (proprietors of Nimbus Records) reached an agreement with Richard Itter to distribute the company's entire catalogue over an 18-month period.

Sadly Richard Itter died in March this year but his legacy has been safeguarded by the Lyrita Recorded Edition Trust set up by him in 2012 which with its ongoing license with Wyastone Estate ensured that Lyrita recordings will continue to be released.

The most recent new release from Lyrita is entitled British Cello Concertos and features works by John Joubert, Robert Simpson and Christopher Wright played by cellist Raphael Wallfisch  with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales  conducted by William Boughton 

SRCD 344
John Joubert (b.1927) was born in Cape Town, South Africa but studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, England. He has since taught at the universities of Hull and Birmingham. His compositions include operas, orchestral and chamber works together with sacred and secular choral music.

Raphael Wallfisch opens the Poco lento – poco più mosso of Joubert’s Concerto in Two Movements for Cello and Chamber Orchestra, op.171 (2012) with a rapidly bowed theme before the orchestra enters. The cello again plays a solo passage of some virtuosity before falling to a hush as the orchestra re-enters with more pizzicato phrases from the cello, accompanied by the orchestra that plays a flowing melancholy melody. Soon the cello picks up the theme proper, bringing a passion with Raphael Wallfisch’s distinctive tone that reveals so much of the emotion of the music. The music rises centrally to an intense and forward moving passage to which the cello joins for some pretty angst filled passages. The music falls to a gentler passage for cello and orchestra, beautifully written orchestral passages against which the cello ruminates. An orchestral passage gently leads to a cello solo over orchestral strings that rise up in the coda before gently falling to end.

With the Lento – Allegro Vivace the soloist again opens with a cadenza like passage that always retains a rather thoughtful air. When the orchestra enters, it joins in a more frantic variant that the cello has reached with both cello and orchestra now pushing forward, a rapidly bowed theme insistently reoccurring between more flowing passages. The music becomes increasingly anxious and passionate before falling to a brief cello solo to which two violins and a viola form a quartet joining in a rapid theme. Later another solo cello passage arrives superbly played by Wallfisch. The orchestra re-joins as the music rapidly moves forward in an almost dance like passage, with the rapidly bowed theme still there at times, rising in tension before leading to the insistent end.

This is certainly a remarkably fine work that I will return to often.

Robert Simpson (1921-1997) was born in Leamington, England and was a pupil of Herbert Howells before studying at Durham University for his Bachelor of Music and Doctorate of Music. He was for many years a BBC producer.  He wrote a number of books and articles on Nielsen, Bruckner, Beethoven and Sibelius.  Simpson is probably best known for his eleven symphonies and fifteen string quartets, a significant contribution to the genres. However, his compositions include a piano concerto, a flute concerto, a violin concerto and a cello concerto.

It is Simpson’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1991), his last orchestral work that is included on this disc. The orchestra present an immediately recognisable Simpson theme in the Introduction full of expectancy and restrained energy, slowly building in strength until running into the first of a series of eleven Variations where the soloist joins, becoming rather restrained against a light textured orchestra. There are many individual instrumental details from the orchestra as Wallfisch takes the theme through some attractive variations with orchestral interactions, the cello weaving some strangely beautiful sounds.  The 4th Variation brings a gentler passage with the cello providing an intensely melancholic melody, the strings of the orchestra often adding a tension. Slowly the music becomes more agitated, the orchestra rising in a dramatic sequence before settling to go into Variation 5 where the cello plays a lightly sprung theme over a quiet orchestra. There are sudden little forward bursts of energy from the cello, at one point threatening to run out of energy but soon regaining power and moving quickly forward. Wallfisch holds the often difficult balance between restraint and power beautifully as does William Boughton and the BBC National orchestra of Wales.

Some of Simpson’s finest music is here as the soloist works through the variations with an orchestral outburst that allows some of the pent up energy to be released before the cello holds a long held note between outbursts from the orchestra and gently leading into the 9th Variation a wonderful moment as the cello slowly introduces a quiet melody over an exquisite orchestral backdrop with a lovely woodwind contribution. There is still a rich, restrained feeling of power, mainly in the orchestra. The cello and orchestra try to rise but return to a wistful little passage. The cello plays broader more strident cello phrases before ruminating alone on the material. A hushed orchestra enters to take the cellist gently and quietly forward, another exquisite section. Simpson’s dovetailing of orchestral detail and cello is impressive. Eventually the orchestra tries to rise up again but the cello retains its slow gentle theme. The orchestra tries again but gives up and returns to its hushed nature which, with a wistful cello theme, continues until it just fades to nothing.

This is a wonderful late work from Robert Simpson, curiously restrained it seems to allow the cello to overcome the composers natural desire to allow powerful forces to erupt. It is superbly performed by Wallfisch and the BBC NOW under Boughton.

Christopher Wright (b.1954) was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, England, and studied composition with Richard Arnell and later with Stanley Glasser, Alan Bullard & Nicholas Sackman. He has since been active as a trombonist, pianist, choral conductor/trainer and composer. His compositions include choral, vocal, orchestral, chamber and instrumental works as well as works for brass and wind band.

Wright’s Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra (2011) is dedicated to Raphael Wallfisch and was written following the summer riots of 2011in England. Two main elements are featured in the work, Battle and Lament. It is played without a break opening with an Allegretto furioso e sardonicamente where the orchestra provide a theme that rises and soon moves quickly forward, full of drama before the cello enters equally dramatically. Soon the cello introduces a broader melody against curious little orchestral outbursts. There is a sweeping orchestral passage before the cello plays a deeper melody. Tubular bell chimes are heard, slowly leading to a passage with a rapid cello motif over a hushed atmospheric orchestra. The tubular bell chimes are heard again as we are led into the Poco lento with some wonderfully scored moments.

There are delicate orchestral sounds and a rich, deep cello theme to which the orchestra soon joins. The cello leads into a rather more quixotic motif against a hushed orchestra, the cello at one moment passionate then suddenly dancing around.  Eventually the cello pays some lovely harmonics over the orchestra, bells are heard again and we are led into the final Allegro giusto – Andante Tranquillo.

The orchestra soon picks up dramatically joined by the cello in a rather frantic section with some beautifully rich phrases and rhythmic moments for cello. Soon the orchestra alone falls to a quieter impressively scored passage. The cello joins the theme leading to a lovely solo passage, exquisitely played before the orchestra leap in, full of energy yet suddenly changing to a gossamer accompaniment to the cello’s quieter theme. There is some remarkably fine playing from Wallfisch here before muted brass and tubular bells gently appear as the music ends in a hush.

This is a remarkably fine concerto that works as absolute music regardless of the ideas behind it.

Lyrita should be congratulated on bringing these fine works to disc in such first rate performances. The recording is excellent and there are informative booklet notes.

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