Themes and Variations
Beethoven: Variations on ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’; Mendelssohn: Variations concertantes, Op. 17; Schumann: Adagio and Allegro in A flat, Op. 70; plus works by Chopin, Fauré, Rachmaninov, Schubert, etc
James Gilchrist (tenor), Guy Johnston (cello), Tom Poster (piano)
Orchid Classics ORC 100095 74:31 mins
What a wondrous thing a well-played cello is, especially when wrapped in the warm blanket of a well-written piano accompaniment. The playing is consistently polished and elegant; the programme is charming, even undemanding, for the listener, so this would make a wonderful gift for a newcomer to the repertoire or aspiring younger players.
We start with playful Beethoven variations, before turning to passionate Schumann, tender Fauré, crisply virtuosic Mendelssohn, and so forth. The core of the recital is Schubert’s ‘Auf dem Strom’, sung with characteristic passion by James Gilchrist. This song has an instrumental obbligato usually heard on the horn, but which is rendered here by Johnston.
There follow a couple of Romantic or Romantic-inspired showpieces: first Chopin, then a fractionally edgier set of variations by Martinů before the one startling, but welcome inclusion – James MacMillan’s 1993 Kiss on Wood, which temporarily jolts us out of our comfort zone before also settling into a lyrical-spiritual mood. We end with two old chestnuts, albeit very sweet ones: Rachmaninov’s Vocalise and Saint-Saëns’s ‘The Swan’.
I’ve no idea why the recital is called Theme and Variations; it mainly showcases well-established Romantic lyric repertoire, and the connections made in the liner notes are a touch tenuous. In truth (as they tell us), the recital is a celebration of the longstanding friendship and artistic partnership between these two accomplished musicians. And why not?