Britten: Cello Symphony, Cello Sonata & Cello Suites
Studio Master: CDA67941/2 2CDs Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Movement 1: Allegro maestoso
Movement 2: Presto inquieto
Movement 3: Adagio – cadenza ad lib –
Movement 4: Passacaglia: Andante allegro
In the event, it was not until April 1963 that Britten was able to complete the score of the Cello Symphony. He was back in the Soviet Union in early 1964, and during this trip he was able to conduct the work’s postponed premiere, which took place in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on 12 March. Given by Rostropovich and the Moscow Philharmonic, the performance was repeated four days later in Leningrad. In Moscow, students attending the concert were so enthusiastic in their response that the finale had to be encored. The first UK performance followed on 18 June at the Aldeburgh Festival and, soon after it had received another airing in Holland during July, Rostropovich and Britten made their celebrated Decca recording of the score with the English Chamber Orchestra. Writing to Britten from Chicago in 1965 after having given numerous further performances of the piece, however, Rostropovich reported that when the New York Cellists’ Club had played him the recording, ‘I almost wept: I play it so very, very much better now and am so sad that we can’t go and record it again straight away!’.
The Cello Symphony was Britten’s first orchestral work on the sonata principle for a period of over twenty years, and was to remain his only substantial piece of absolute symphonic music. As the title suggests, throughout the work the soloist and orchestra are treated on equal terms, sharing all the important melodic material. The first movement begins with a rhetorical introduction from the cello, the style recalling the composer’s debt to Purcell, and this leads to a straightforward sonata form in which the roles of soloist and orchestra are reversed in the recapitulation. The shadowy scherzo (Presto inquieto) is a technical tour de force, every melodic and harmonic fragment derived from the same group of motivic cells; in spite of its rigorously intellectual construction, however, the movement has an unparalleled eeriness and intensity. Baroque influences return in the double-dotted rhythms of the Adagio, and a version of the finale’s main theme is heard before the soloist’s cadenza. The Passacaglia is more harmonic in conception than melodic, the chord sequence on which it is based being announced by the soloist beneath the opening trumpet solo.
from notes by Mervyn Cooke © 2013