Two Disc Review: Geoffrey Bush; British Cello Concertos

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Geoffry Bush; Joubert,Simpson & Wright
LABELS: Lyrita
PERFORMER: Raphael Wallfisch (cello)

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Geoffrey Bush
Sinfonietta Concertante; Concerto for light orchestra; Natus est Immanuel; Two Miniatures; Finale for a Concert for Orchestra; plus works by Ireland and Locke
Raphael Wallfisch (cello); Northern Chamber Orchestra/Nicholas Ward
Lyrita SRCD.341  
61:10 mins
 

British Cello Concertos
Works by Joubert, Simpson & Wright
Raphael Wallfisch (cello); BBC National Orchestra of Wales/William Boughton
Lyrita SRCD.344  
70:38 mins

To listen to three powerfully written cello concertos straight through in continuous sequence might sound like an experience you wouldn’t necessarily choose. Raphael Wallfisch’s fine solo playing, however – mellow-toned and masterful, never strident or hectoring, and with top-quality orchestral accompaniments to match – ensures that the ear’s attention doesn’t feel under assault. And the works themselves provide their own recommendation.

The opening movement of John Joubert’s Cello Concerto is a beautifully sustained, threnody-like statement, proclaiming the assured mastery of a much underestimated composer; while the deft and pacey second movement isn’t of this magnitude, it effectively counterbalances its predecessor. The late Robert Simpson’s Concerto, one of his last orchestral statements, shows how impressively the idiom of his old age was searching out new possibilities; the closing stages of this single-movement variation sequence have an evocative, spacious manner that lingers in the memory. Christopher Wright’s Concerto – conceived, he says, in the aftermath of the riots in the English summer of 2011 – isn’t quite in this formidable league, but is incisively and expertly written nonetheless.

Geoffrey Bush’s idiom offers less: as so often in the world of English music, low artistic horizons seem to have subverted the creative scope of a striking talent. By far the most memorable item here is Natus est Immanuel, a ‘Christmas piece for string orchestra’ originally written for piano when the composer was 19, and displaying a brand of lyrical imagination individual enough to hold its own in any company. ‘Lullaby’, the first of Bush’s Two Miniatures of 1948, shows how that same individuality was still capable of resurfacing later on. Elsewhere, what’s on offer is light music in more senses than one, although the Sinfonietta Concertante’s needlepoint technical skill offers Wallfisch and the Northern Chamber Orchestra an opportunity which they seize in classy style.

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Malcolm Hayes