Saturday 1 August 2015

Raphael Wallfisch and Raphael Terroni bring passion, fire and poetry to Kenneth Leighton’s complete chamber works for cello on a release from Naxos

Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988) was born in Wakefield, England. He was a chorister at Wakefield Cathedral and while still at school he obtained the Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music (LRAM) in piano performance. He went on to study classics and music at Oxford University before travelling to Italy to study with Goffredo Petrassi (1904-2003). Gerald Finzi was an early supporter and friend who performed some of his music with his Newbury String players. He later held posts at Oxford and Edinburgh Universities.

His compositions span most genres including opera, choral, vocal, orchestral, instrumental and piano works.

Raphael Wallfisch  and the late Raphael Terroni’s recording of Leighton’s Complete Chamber Works for Cello for the BMS label has now been released by Naxos

Leighton has been reasonably well served with recordings in recent years but there is still much of his music that deserves to be heard. It is good to have all of his chamber works for cello collected together on one disc, particularly when as well performed as here.

The Partita for Cello & Piano, Op. 35 (1959) is in three movements. Elegy opens with a sudden motif for piano before the cello immediately joins in a passionate theme, the piano all the while adding drama. Raphael Wallfisch brings great passion and depth to this music. It quietens to a gentle passage where the cello provides a gentle but no less passionate theme before rising again with passionate playing from both these fine artists. Pizzicato cello and staccato piano chords lead to a hushed coda.

The Scherzo rises naturally out of the preceding Elegy, soon becoming frenetic with some very fine playing from Wallfisch and Terroni in this fast moving movement. There are some terrific passages giving equal prominence to both players, becoming ever more frenetic and passionate.

The theme of the final movement, Theme & Variations brings a simple motif that is developed.  Not a very clearly defined theme, it has dissonances and subtle harmonies and harmonics out of which Leighton develops Variation 1, Allegro inquieto, just as elusive as the theme itself. Variation 2, Ostinato brings back the passion with a deeply felt cello part and strong, broad piano contribution before turning to moments of pizzicato and quieter details.

Variation 3, March soon develops with a rather fast, frantic march full of drama and angst as it moves quickly forward with some exceptionally fine playing from both these players before tumbling into Variation 4, Appassionato an anxious passage for cello over a rippling piano motif.

Variation 5, Waltz brings staccato piano chords over which the cello weaves a variation, before the piano takes the theme against pizzicato cello, again building in passion before the gentle Variation 6, Chorale where the piano opens with a gentle, spacious little falling theme to which the cello adds a sad, melancholy melody. The cello rises to a high pitch before the piano brings back the gentle descending motif to which the cello joins, gentle, quiet and mournful, before fading gently into silence.

This is an unusual, very appealing work given a very fine performance by these artists.

Leighton’s Elegy for Cello & Piano, Op. 5 (1949) was written whilst he was still at Oxford and studying music with Bernard Rose (1916-1996). The piano opens with repeated chords to which the cello adds a rich, deeply felt theme. The music develops becoming more passionate before soon arriving at a lovely melody, more relaxed and shared by both players. It develops through more anguished passages with Leighton finding a particularly English sound world. Wallfisch’s tone is wonderful as he extracts some very fine moments of deep feeling. Terroni brings a terrific piano part, sometimes gentle, often firm and passionate, always poetic, before a lovely, quiet coda.

This is a more substantial work than the title and length indicate. It receives a wonderful performance here.

The Sonata for solo Cello, Op. 52 (1967) was written whilst Leighton was Reader in Music at the University of Edinburgh and was first performed by Joan Dickson at a National Gallery of Scotland lunch tine concert.

In three movements, Lament & Pizzicato opens with a deeply felt lament, beautifully judged by Wallfisch, bringing out every little moment of feeling. As it progresses, little strums are added whilst the melody becomes ever more desperate with Wallfisch digging deep. Pizzicato passages then take over developing the theme further. There is some terrific playing, a real test of a cellist’s pizzicato technique and musicianship. Bowed phrases return and alternate before the passionate earlier theme, before the music slowly dies away as we are led into the second movement.

Toccata & Cradle Song has a fast moving Toccata where Wallfisch displays more of his dazzling technique moving through some virtuosic passages before slowing for the wistful Cradle Song bringing some fine double stopped textures before falling almost to a hush. The music suddenly takes off again, though quietly, to move to the strange little coda.

Flourish, Chaconne & Coda opens with a spirited, finely done Flourish before it moves into the Chaconne where Wallfisch develops some really fine passages with constantly changing ideas, expertly revealed here. The music rises in passion as the coda is reached but ends quietly.

This sonata is full of fine ideas. It is an impressive work played just as impressively by Raphael Wallfisch.

Alleluia Pascha Nostrum, Op. 85 (1981) for cello and piano was premiered by Raphael Wallfisch and Richard Markham at a BBC concert in Manchester in 1982. Deep resonant cello chords open before slowly developing. When the piano enters it lightly points up the theme of the cello, now in the higher register. The piano develops little rippling phrases with much fine poetry displayed by these two artists. The music slowly moves ahead with its exquisite, melancholy theme before finding a lighter passage as the music grows faster with pizzicato cello phrases around piano accompaniment. It increases in passion before falling to a quiet, slow passage where the piano picks out the theme, the cello joining as both gently take the theme forward. Again the music rises in passion to the upper reaches of the cello before picking up the earlier pace as it rushes forward. The piano falls away as the cello slows to a gentle melody with the piano returning to provide gentle accompaniment as they quietly move to the hushed coda.

This is an impressive work, full of passion, fire and poetry, especially as played here by these two fine artists.

It is good to have this fine recording from Raphael Wallfisch and Raphael Terroni back in the catalogue. They receive a first rate recording from The Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon, UK and there are informative booklet notes.

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