Shostakovich, Walton: Cello Concertos

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich,Walton
LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1; Walton: Cello Concerto; plus bonus track-Lento, Allegro molto
PERFORMER: Jamie Walton (cello), Nigel Black (horn); Philharmonia Orchestra/Alexander Briger
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD220

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Jamie Walton’s recording presents the finale of (William) Walton’s Cello Concerto in its two alternative versions – one of which, until now, has been more known about than known. The Concerto’s dedicatee and first performer, Gregor Piatigorsky, came to feel that the work should have a ‘less melancholy ending’, and eventually convinced the composer to provide one two decades later.

Then Piatigorsky died before performing this, and it has not been heard publicly before now. The final, sudden fortissimo flaring-up of the first movement’s accompanying figure is a striking idea. Whether it works better than Walton’s drowsily lyrical first thoughts (I don’t myself think so) is food for thought.

Besides this particular area of interest, Jamie Walton’s warm and beautifully focused way with the work excels in its own right. The finale’s notoriously difficult, stop-start design here works unerringly; and a not too quick tempo for the scherzo makes its intricate workings all the more vivid and rewarding to the ear. So does the recorded balance – a touch close, yes, but the upside is that the solo cello’s low register comes across more clearly than usual against the orchestra. 

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The same unflashily vivid brilliance brings in a rich harvest in Shostakovich’s First Concerto. Jamie Walton doesn’t quite achieve the fearsome level of sustained firepower on which the outer movements implicitly insist (has anyone ever, apart from Rostropovich?). But his keening way with the slow movement’s lyrical lament marks out a remarkable player. Alexander Briger and the Philharmonia supply superb accompaniments. Malcolm Hayes