ELGAR; WALTON Cello Concertos BRITTEN Sea Interludes
Here are two distinguished new versions of Walton’s still underestimated Cello Concerto. Both display heaps of eloquence and perceptive artistry from all involved, are utterly valid in their differing approaches and complement each other beautifully. Editorially, too, they stand apart: in the finale Li-Wei Qin opts for the revised coda that Walton fashioned in 1975 following a request for a ‘less melancholic ending’ from the work’s legendary dedicatee, Gregor Piatigorsky. Does it improve on the published original? I don’t think so, but decide for yourselves. Backed to the hilt by a meticulously prepared LPO under Zhang Yi, the Chinese virtuoso manifestly loves this bewitching music and savours to the max its soaring lyricism, fastidious refinement and wistful tenderness. By comparison, Zurich-born Christian Poltéra is marginally leaner in tone and less inclined to linger; his is a refreshing, purposeful view which pays handsome dividends in tightening the structural bolts of the finale’s alluringly wayward theme and improvisations. Fabulously secure in technique, the commanding Poltéra also benefits from wholly sympathetic, razor-sharp support from the São Paulo SO under the late Frank Shipway, while the sound is splendiferously realistic, even by BIS’s customarily high standards.
As for the couplings, Poltéra’s choice of Walton’s solo Passacaglia (written in 1979 80 for Rostropovich) and two substantial works by Paul Hindemith is a particularly happy one. Hindemith was, of course, the soloist in the October 1929 world premiere of Walton’s masterly Viola Concerto, and the two composers remained firm friends right up to Hindemith’s death in 1963. His strongly communicative Cello Concerto of 1940 (whose slow movement provided Walton with the theme for his orchestral Variations on a Theme of Hindemith) was also written for Piatigorsky and receives magnificently assured and hugely dedicated advocacy here, as does the pithy Solo Sonata from 1922 23 (try its songful Langsam centrepiece). Turning to the excellently engineered ABC Classics release, there’s lots to admire, too, in Qin’s questing, nobly intense interpretation of the Elgar Concerto – he’s a superbly stylish, raptly intuitive performer of whom I’m sure we’ll be hearing plenty more. Yi proves a conspicuously tasteful partner, and his shrewdly observant account of Britten’s Four Sea Interludes – which features some notably accomplished orchestral playing (marvellous work from the LPO’s Principal Flute in ‘Sunday Morning’) allied to a vivid sense of atmosphere – makes a generous bonus on what is a thoroughly recommendable issue. Acquire one or the other – ideally both!