Chopin, Saint-Saens: Chopin: Cello Sonata in G minor; Introduction and Polonaise brilliante in C; Saint-saëns: Cello Sonata No. 2 in F

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COMPOSERS: Chopin,Saint-Saens
LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Chopin: Cello Sonata in G minor; Introduction and Polonaise brilliante in C; Saint-saëns: Cello Sonata No. 2 in F
PERFORMER: Jamie Walton (cello), Daniel Grimwood (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 252

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Saint-Saëns’s magnificent Second Cello Sonata is now well-served on disc, but its appearances on stage are still too rare. Jamie Walton’s sound in this excellent recording is open and luminous. Daniel Grimwood is more than a match for his extravagant part: after a pleasingly bold opening Maestoso, the Scherzo, explodes into life with a thrilling motoric rumble, powered by this mercurial pianist.
 
There’s plenty of Mendelssohnian magic here in both the lazily eloquent and fleet-footed variations, and an infectious sense of enjoyment. Walton is suave and dreamy in the epic Romanza, but curiously detached. Steven Isserlis (with Pascal Devoyon, RCA) finds a certain depth and piquancy here, phrasing in long lines that always have energy and direction. Walton, by contrast, floats melodies, creating a sense of stasis. The final Allegro is similarly nonchalant, but too often lacks impetus. Where Walton explores, Isserlis finds more urgency and bite.
 
Their fine performance of Chopin’s great Sonata clears its technical hurdles with ease. But ease isn’t necessarily what this Sonata is about: we need to feel apprehensive, swept up in a tumult, and then suddenly dropped into a haven where time stands still, as we do in Martha Argerich’s performances – with Mstislav Rostropovich (Decca) and Mischa Maisky (DG). There is insufficient contrast here between episodes. The Scherzo is sufficiently fast, but the cello lacks a gruff edge. A Largo of radiant tenderness is, rightly, the emotional heart of the Sonata. They manage to keep up momentum in the difficult last movement, giving stylish shape to the material. One feels that Walton, a player of huge promise, could occasionally push his musicianship harder, out of his comfort zone. Helen Wallace