Britten’s Cello Suites Nos 1-3 by Quirine Viersen

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COMPOSERS: Benjamin Britten
LABELS: Globe Records
ALBUM TITLE: Britten
WORKS: Cello Suites Nos 1-3
PERFORMER: Quirine Viersen (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: GLO 5259

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This recording is dedicated to the late producer Paul Janse, who recorded Quirine Viersen’s Bach Suites and persuaded her to turn to Britten’s. From her notes, it seems to have taken Viersen a while to be convinced of their worth: perhaps that influenced my sense of her performances as an occasionally apprehensive journey into the labyrinth. Of course, an act of discovery can be more exciting than the expression of a wholly-absorbed truth. While in the First Suite the ‘Cantos’ are mired in obscurity, the slinky pizzicato ‘Serenata’ and ‘March’ are delightfully spirited. But where Alban Gerhardt (Hyperion) injects nervy drama into the ‘Bordone’, with dry bass notes and dessicated distant melody clarifying the voices around its drone, Viersen doesn’t find sufficient contrast, though her final ‘Canto’ has a fierce, fiery energy.

The complex weave of the Second Suite has confounded many, especially its monumental fugue: this is where Viersen excels, limpidly at home in its intricately rhythmic, multi-voiced construction, savouring its high, pure pitches on her very beautiful Guarneri instrument. Her opening ‘Declamato’ has a hefty command, her Scherzo is explosive. If the final Andante is a touch too measured, the big Ciaconna is well shaped, if not as galvanising as Wispelwey’s and Gerhardt’s swifter readings . The Third Suite is itself an act of recognition, of fragments reforming into a whole: Viersen allows its mysterious process time to breathe, its fantasy to take wing, for resonance to bloom, culminating in a Passacaglia of unmistakable power.

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Helen Wallace