BRITTEN Solo Cello Suites
There wasn’t exactly a dearth of recordings being made of Britten’s Cello Suites before the death of their dedicatee Mstislav Rostropovich in 2007. Those that were, however, frequently found themselves shot down in flames by those critics who felt that an exact reproduction of his own interpretation was the only acceptable reading of what was written directly into Britten’s score. Since 2007, though, there has been an exponential increase in the number of cellists willing to lift their heads above the parapet and make recordings of works as notoriously difficult to listen to as they are to play.
The Cello Suites came at a crossroads in Britten’s career. He had started writing more instrumental music after a long period concentrating primarily on vocal repertoire of one sort or another, a fact shared with Bach at the time he wrote his own Cello Suites in 1720. These works are actually all about relationships – a fact lost on neither player – and the slightly different emphasis that each has chosen is part of the beauty of each performance. Pierlot’s sweet sound brings out a song-like quality in the pieces that is not always so obvious in Walton’s performance, although his interpretation is arguably a more accurate representation of the artistic freedom Britten enjoyed, with Pierlot perhaps making more of the hidden Bachian meaningfulness in their lyricism than Britten may have intended.
Maybe the link to the Bach Suites that Britten is so keen to make is less about historical context, though, and more simply about Rostropovich’s deep, profound love of those pieces. In which case, far more should really be made of the mercurial qualities of the Britten: the frequent changes of metre and tempo, and technical demands that were so in line with Rostropovich’s own musical proclivities. Here is where Walton’s musical thought continues to deepen, with each movement taking the listener further into the tangle of complexities that the music has to offer, his spirited performance more closely channelling Rostropovich himself. But neither should the beauty and dazzling virtuosity of Pierlot’s golden performance be underestimated.