BRITTEN Suites for Solo Cello
A particular coup of this disc is the booklet-note. That may be an odd place for a review to start but the Britten scholar Paul Kildea has always written in a way that illuminates Britten’s social, personal and political contexts so engagingly as to make it impossible for even the most hardened Britten sceptics not to open their minds to his music as a worthwhile artistic pursuit. His account of Britten’s meeting with Rostropovich and their subsequent musical collaboration, which began with the Cello Sonata (which Philip Higham has also recorded – Sonimage, 12/12), makes it much easier than usual to forget the rush in which the Suites were written and see them as a representation of an important friendship and marriage of cultures, and a tapestry of Britten’s own compositional journey.
But it is Higham’s expansive but tender playing that pulls this music as far away from slapdash as it is possible to be. He apprehends the complicated and multifarious elements of a set of pieces that seek to pay homage to Bach, the enormous and far-reaching Russian tradition from which their dedicatee came, and what Britten saw as a distillation of all his musical influences all at the same time. There is no doubting the plain virtuosity of these works, too, and despite his appreciation of their contextual importance, Higham still manages to revel in the glorious sound they invite the cello to make, playing around with its warmth of colours to bring out with glorious inevitability the Bach and Shostakovich hidden therein.