Britten: Solo Cello Suites, Nos 1-3
A brave choice of repertoire for a debut disc, but this young Scot’s ambition pays off: there’s nowhere to hide in three solo suites, but why hide a technique as assured, a musical imagination so finely attuned to Britten’s expression, or a Tecchler cello sound as burnished and wonderfully textured as this?
Philip Higham, trained by Ralph Kirshbaum and mentored by Steven Isserlis, came second in the high-powered Emanuel Feuermann Competition 2010. His formidable mastery is lightly worn, and he exudes an invigorating sense of freedom, though not a single technical imperfection mars this recording (he was co-producer). From the first chords of ‘Canto Primo’, unstrained, glistening, we know we’re in safe hands; his ‘Lamento’ has piercing power with a compelling sense of line. For the fiery ‘Fuga’ he opts for a gentler approach than does Alban Gerhardt, whose rhythmic bite and manic drive made his recent recording so exciting (reviewed February). Few seem willing to find the extremes of these suites (as does Pieter Wispelwey and Gerhardt, and the dedicatee Mstislav Rostropovich), but Higham’s instincts are right. He is at his best in intimate, shadowy episodes (finding a guitar-like fluency, for example, in the First Suite’s ‘Serenata’), produces a thrilling and radiant climax to the First Suite, and develops the Second’s monumental ‘Ciaconna’ with searing commitment (heavy breathing notwithstanding). In the Third Suite Wispelwey has the demonic edge in the Moto perpetuo, but I’ve rarely heard such a fantastical ‘Recitativo: Fantastico’.