Britten: Cello Suites

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Cello Suites
PERFORMER: Truls Mørk (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45399 2
Bach’s Cello Suites broke fertile ground, tended sporadically ever since by composers like Reger, Kodály, Bloch, Hindemith and finally Britten. Though Britten inherited the richest legacy, his uniquely individual response to the Baroque suite also engaged a musical consciousness that was, writes Xavier de Gaulle in the booklet here, ‘permanently suffused with that of the great Elizabethan composers’.

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Britten’s cello triptych is well documented on disc. There are wide-ranging interpretations, playing styles and individual sonorities to consider, from the seminal Rostropovich/Decca traversal via Pieter Wispelwey’s idiosyncratic yet thrilling accounts on Channel, to more anodyne readings, like Kim Bak Dinitzen’s for Kontrapunkt. On BIS, Torleif Thedéen’s arresting and insightful survey often led the field, but Virgin’s riveting new cycle from Truls Mørk (surely the most outstanding cellist of the younger generation) will redefine superlatives here.

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Mørk is phenomenal. Not only does he overcome every massive technical obstacle with unprecedented assurance and verve (never has the Presto of Suite No. 3 sounded so effortlessly controlled), regularly outclassing Rostropovich for whom the Suites were written, Mørk also distils the introspective, sensual elements of this music effectively. That’s why he mesmerises the ear, playing with rapturous beauty in those reflective Cantos interspersing Suite No. 1, and sounds vital and natural in the Italianate Serenata (Mørk’s pizzicatos are dazzling) and Barcarola of No. 3. And how this work astounds in Mørk’s performance – measured, threnodistic and inevitable in its psychological rigour; you’re left chilled, yearning and penitent by the close. Mørk always impresses on disc, but this is a triumph.