Britten: Cello Suites No. 1; Cello Suite No. 2; Cello Suite No. 3

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Channel
WORKS: Cello Suites No. 1; Cello Suite No. 2; Cello Suite No. 3
PERFORMER: Pieter Wispelwey (cello)
Pieter Wispelwey’s 1992 survey of the Britten suites on Globe revealed striking musical penetration and rigorous technical control, hampered only by close, dry sound that wasn’t too pleasing on the ear. Wispelwey’s new Channel traversal brings expected sonic gains, but the performances, though sometimes more poignantly reflective than before, are also less vital, inflammatory and urgent than their predecessors. As his wide discography shows, Wispelwey isn’t normally constrained by genre, style or period. But although his latest pronouncements on Britten’s Suites won’t disappoint, they add nothing new to what was said, often much more persuasively, a decade ago.


This field is now hotly contested. Although the seminal Rostropovich accounts of Suites Nos 1 and 2 are still available (Decca), Wispelwey’s exploration faces sternest competition from Torleif Thedéen’s formidable BIS set, and the exceptionally fine Virgin performances by Truls Mørk, which have redefined superlatives since they appeared two years ago.


Wispelwey can sound mannered and effortful at times, as in the Moto perpetuo of Suite No. 3, which Mørk plays with spectacular verve and abject disregard for its bruising technical hurdles. And where M0rk always engages the reflective, sensual aspects of this music magically, Wispelwey seems plainer, more anodyne in his approach, as in the austere Passacaglia from the Third Suite, or the First’s Serenata, where Mørk’s pizzicatos truly dazzle. Wispelwey is at his best in the Ciaccona ending the Second Suite, which he plays magnificently, but this uneven new survey cannot replace Truls Mørk’s exultant, revelatory Virgin disc. Michael Jameson