Britten: Cello Suites Nos 1-3
Jamie Walton writes that these three Suites helped him move out of a period of turmoil and unhappiness in his earlier life, and there’s no doubting his intense identification with their inner music. It’s rather unfortunate, then, that his set comes at a time when it seems to be raining Britten Suites, and competition is stiff. His recorded sound (in the Britten Studio at Snape Maltings) is surprisingly resonant, almost church-like, which leads to some distortion. At the beginning of Suite No. 1, for example, he cooks up a storm of sonorities which is magnificent but clouds some detail, while the second part also sounds congested in comparison to Philip Higham’s leaner, more poised approach (Delphian).
Suite No. 2 is the most gnomic of the three, and Walton carries its line with care. Too many of the notes in the Allegro are blurred by resonance; but while his final ‘Ciaconna’ at first feels vaguely shadowy, it coalesces gradually into a powerfully momentous climax.
I like the raw, assertive quality of much of Walton’s playing, and in particular the hard pizzicato style he adopts. Higham finds a stiller, quieter place to begin Suite No. 3, allowing for greater contrast with the aggressive ‘Marcia’. Walton’s range is smaller, but he moves between sections with great naturalness. We miss the exquisite tonal colouring offered by Pieter Wispelwey, and the demonic attack both Rostropovich and Alban Gerhardt bring to its Moto perpetuo. For beauty of sound Truls Mørk has the edge (Virgin), but I’ve no doubt a live performance by Walton would be a hugely rewarding experience. Look out for his forthcoming DVD on the Suites from Blythburgh Church.