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

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Cello Suite No. 1; Cello Suite No. 2; Cello Suite No. 3
PERFORMER: Tim Hugh (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553663
In Tim Hugh, Naxos has signed up a serious-minded cellist, well suited to this compelling, bittersweet music. Future projects – the complete Boccherini concertos, for instance – may not tax the spirit as much as these suites, whose flimsy, mocking serenades and scherzos and sadly jaunty fugues are far from the real lightheartedness of many of Bach’s suite movements.

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Great precision and concentration is called for in this music, with its intricate, often fragmented lines, hints of counterpoint, and detailed dynamic markings. Getting your mind round all that and still playing musically without the comfort of a supporting piano or orchestra is a real test of interpretative skill, but Hugh is up to the challenge, relishing the range of sonorities called for by Britten – the threatening clattering of the col legno, the stopped harmonic’s whispering purity.

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All three suites were dedicated to and premiered by Rostropovich, whose expansive 1989 recording of the first two suites is available on EMI’s London label. Some of Hugh’s movements lack the zing of Rostropovich – his Moto perpetuo in Suite No. 1 is nowhere near as terrifying as in its dedicatee’s hands – but this is nonetheless a satisfying, vital interpretation, with excellent sound. Janet Banks