Shostakovich • Britten • Prokofiev
The powerful presence of Rostropovich haunts these three sonatas, and his recordings are indelible, particularly the Britten (Decca), and Shostakovich (BBC Legends) with their respective composers at the piano.
Cellist Jamie Walton is at ease with the young Shostakovich’s queasy neo-Romanticism, giving a truly vocal feel to the Allegro, and tearing into a fiery Scherzo. He has a tendency to vibrate fast on the second half of notes in lyrical passages, which becomes mannered. There’s also a lack of edge to this performance, which makes the Adagio sound melodiously easygoing rather than devastating, as it is for Rostropovich. A dashing Finale and Grimwood’s piquant sense of fun partly rescue the performance, but there’s something routine hovering over the whole. For a piercingly imaginative alternative, hear Pieter Wispelwey/Dejan Lazic’s reading on Channel Classics.
Gliding elegance rather than grittiness is uppermost in Britten’s Dialogo when compared with the fiercely alert performance by Rostropovich and Britten. Walton and Grimwood show a general understanding of the work’s architecture – too many phrases are glossed over, until the magical coda of the first movement. Real dialogue is achieved in a swift pizzicato Scherzo. Grimwood succeeds in finding something greater in the mournful Elegia, giving it heart, while their Moto perpetuo makes for a thrilling, dry finish.
The caustic faux-naivety of Prokofiev’s Sonata presents an interpretative challenge to most performers. Walton struggles to find the composer’s ‘proud’ sound in the lower registers of the opening. Grimwood holds back on the massive repeated chords to allow the cello to come through, but one feels the no-holds-barred approach taken by Dejan Lazic is perhaps closer to Prokofiev’s intentions. The folksy Moderato needs more pointing up, and some more airiness in the cello’s timbre would have lifted the sunny finale. Walton makes us all too aware that this isn’t Prokofiev at his best.