Elgar, Britten

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Britten,Elgar
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Cello Concerto
PERFORMER: Truls Mørk (cello); CBSO/Simon Rattle
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45356 2
Truls Mørk’s formerly big-boned, warm playing has become more refined in recent years, achieving a luminous, fine-spun quality which makes this Elgar Concerto particularly beautiful. It has also further developed in stature, giving his Britten Cello Symphony the heft it needs.

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Rattle balances the orchestra brilliantly in what is one of Britten’s murkiest scores, and the recording reveals each layer. Mørk has the power and technique to sink deeply into this dreamlike score. In the Adagio his high chords, swinging between dissonance and resolution, are never strained. In its mysterious cadenza every pizzicato tone rings true, giving the suspended chords the necessary tension. On the 1964 Rostropovich/Britten premiere recording there is a real sense of radiance as the cadenza moves into the final movement. Here we have to wait longer, but Rattle eventually achieves that gradually rising wave of orchestral colour. The softer, grainier textures of the CBSO, particularly the wonderful horns and tuba, are welcome beside the raucous approximations of the Moscow Philharmonic players.

The world premiere recording (Russia Revelation) remains unsurpassed in its rough power and urgency, but the later Decca recording must stand as a benchmark, for its better sound. No one has yet managed to make such rhythmic sense of this work: Rostropovich’s energy pulses through the heaving textures like a force of nature, articulating a thrilling narrative.

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Mørk’s Elgar sits between the most austere of performances – Starker – and the highly Romantic readings of du Pré or Isserlis. He brings intense detail to each phrase, and the gentle ensemble between the orchestra and himself in the opening are especially fine. Helen Wallace