Walton; Hindemith

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Walton; Hindemith
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Walton: Cello Concerto; Solo passacaglia; Hindemith: Cello Concerto; Solo sonata
PERFORMER: Christian Poltéra (cello); São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/Frank Shipway
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2077

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We live in a string-playing age where soloists seem to consider (and they’re probably right) a huge sound as a near-essential requirement for developing and sustaining a world career. However understandable the situation, the effect can be nonetheless disconcertingly wearing – which I’m sure isn’t what Christian Poltéra in any way intends. But after listening to his otherwise deeply impressive cello-playing for over an hour, there’s no escaping the feeling of having been harangued, rather than drawn in, by the relentlessness of such weight of tone. The situation is not helped by recorded sound which, while beautiful in itself, places Poltéra’s cello a notch forward in relation to a slightly recessed orchestra (whose accompanying is of sophisticated excellence throughout).

That said, there is much to admire in Poltéra’s immense technical command and forthright expressiveness, although finessed light and shade – insisted on by the poised lyricism and needlepoint virtuosity of Walton’s Concerto in particular – are sometimes in rather short supply. The slow movement of Hindemith’s Concerto is in relatively quiet contrast to the over-the-top exuberance of the rest of the work. The most subtle and inventive music – qualities pleasingly explored by Poltéra – occurs in Hindemith’s five-movement solo Sonata. And the Passacaglia of Walton’s illness-afflicted old age shows that, contrary to received opinion, the composer even then remained capable of works as satisfyingly substantial as this one.

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Malcolm Hayes