Debut: Jacob Shaw

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Johannes Brahms; Benjamin Britten
LABELS: Roven Records
ALBUM TITLE: Debut
WORKS: Brahms: Cello Sonatas Nos 1 & 2; Britten: Cello Suite No. 3, etc
PERFORMER: Jacob Shaw (cello), José Gallardo (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Roven Records RR 90015

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Though titled a debut disc for British-born Jacob Shaw, this was actually six years in the making – and it shows. A Menuhin School and École Normale de Musique alumnus, he recorded the two Brahms sonatas in 2009, the result of winning France’s Banque Populaire competition. Here are two perfectly respectable performances, tonally rich and controlled, No. 1 achieved with limpid legato, No. 2 robustly resonant, both lacking in fire and imagination. Each bar is so minutely measured one could almost take down a dictation. Where’s the sense of risk in the demonic scherzo of No. 2, which should surge forwards with Schumannesque abandon? Speeds feel too safe, despite José Gallardo’s more tempestuous contribution, and he’s let down by bleached piano sound in the higher registers.

And yet, there’s a focus to Shaw’s playing which holds attention, and it flowers in the later recording of Britten’s Third Suite. This monumental farewell and tribute to Rostropovich is written, as he points out, so that its essential material is only made manifest at the very end, a succession of life-events passing through a condemned man’s mind. Despite, again, a lack of contrast and momentum, he creates a rapt atmosphere, and succeeds in building an undeniably profound conclusion, something that has eluded many, more experienced cellists.

Extras include Bloch’s searing Prayer, here reduced to a beautiful sound in a vacuum, robbed of its sobbing breath. The tame tracks drawing on folk, Persian and Chinese music don’t live up to the self-consciously whacky covershoot.

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Helen Wallace