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20th Century British Works for Solo Cello

Rohan de Saram (cello) (FHR)

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20th Century British Works for Solo Cello
J Dillon: Eos; Drakeford: Cello Suite No. 2; D Matthews: Songs and Dances of Mourning; John Mayer: Sannyasin; H Paredes: Zuhuy Kak
Rohan de Saram (cello)
First Hand FHR045   70:03 mins

Rohan de Saram, former cellist of the Arditti Quartet and a tireless adventurer in new music, marks his 80th birthday with a very personal collection, almost a musical ‘This is Your Life’. Each of the works was written for him by composer friends and colleagues over his six-decade-long career. His is a distinctive legacy, with several works referencing his Sri Lankan heritage as well as exploiting his fearless technique.

The Calcutta-born John Mayer’s Sannyasin was inspired by the Hindu ritual of renouncing the world, appropriate for this artist who has dedicated his life to the road less travelled. It’s perhaps the most conventionally rhetorical of all the works, inflected with Mayer’s indo-jazz fusion style. Hilda Paredes’s pungent, tightly-focused essay Zuhuy Kak incorporates Khandyan drumming patterns from the ‘Elephant Vannam’, a Sri Lankan entertainment. De Saram, a long-time exponent of the Khandyan drum, delights in its expressively dragged pizzicato and ghostly cantilenas, though the martial rhythms could be more elastic. This piece vies with James Dillon’s Eos as my favourite discovery here: Dillon sustains a taut, expressive trajectory, whose muscularity and poise is beautifully realised by de Saram.

Perhaps not surprisingly David Matthew’s Songs and Dances of Mourning (1976/98) evokes Britten’s cello suites, written as they were in the year of his death: a poignant lament, scurrying presto a chaconne, and even a final flowering of motifs. It’s well done. These recordings were made in 2015 and are perhaps not as effortless as they might have been in earlier years. Nevertheless, de Saram’s potent musical personality shines through.


Helen Wallace