Hyperion Records

Cello Suite No 1, Op 72
November & December 1964; first performance by dedicatee Mstislav Rostropovich at the Aldeburgh Festival on 27 June 1965

'Britten: Cello Suites' (CDA66274)
Britten: Cello Suites
'Britten: Cello Symphony, Cello Sonata & Cello Suites' (CDA67941/2)
Britten: Cello Symphony, Cello Sonata & Cello Suites
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Part 1: Canto primo: Sostenuto e largamente
Track 1 on CDA67941/2 CD2 [2'30] 2CDs
Track 1 on CDA66274 [2'25] Archive Service
Part 2: I Fuga: Andante moderato
Track 2 on CDA67941/2 CD2 [3'42] 2CDs
Track 2 on CDA66274 [4'07] Archive Service
Part 3: II Lamento: Lento rubato
Track 3 on CDA67941/2 CD2 [2'35] 2CDs
Track 3 on CDA66274 [2'39] Archive Service
Part 4: Canto segundo: Sostenuto
Track 4 on CDA67941/2 CD2 [1'21] 2CDs
Track 4 on CDA66274 [1'21] Archive Service
Part 5: III Serenata: Allegretto, pizzicato
Track 5 on CDA67941/2 CD2 [1'57] 2CDs
Track 5 on CDA66274 [2'15] Archive Service
Part 6: IV Marcia: Alla marcia moderato
Track 6 on CDA67941/2 CD2 [3'06] 2CDs
Track 6 on CDA66274 [3'33] Archive Service
Part 7: Canto terzo: Sostenuto
Track 7 on CDA67941/2 CD2 [2'12] 2CDs
Track 7 on CDA66274 [2'15] Archive Service
Part 8: V Bordone: Moderato quasi recitativo
Track 8 on CDA67941/2 CD2 [3'50] 2CDs
Track 8 on CDA66274 [2'35] Archive Service
Part 9: VI Moto perpetuo e Canto quarto: Presto
Track 9 on CDA67941/2 CD2 [3'27] 2CDs
Track 9 on CDA66274 [3'18] Archive Service

Cello Suite No 1, Op 72
Britten composed for Rostropovich a trilogy of suites for solo cello that constitute rare and valuable examples of a genre sadly neglected by composers since it reached a peak of perfection at the hands of Bach around 1720. The compositional idiom of Britten’s suites harks back in some respects to the precociously inventive instrumental works of his youth, when he had been branded as merely ‘clever’ by astonished critics as he first made his name in the 1930s, and before he devoted most of his attention to composing operas and vocal music.

The suites’ self evident delight in technical wizardry, their exploration of the contrast between drama, lyricism and wit, together with the evocative titles of the individual character pieces which make up each suite, all form a direct link with Britten’s early instrumental display pieces such as the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. (His use of sometimes flamboyant Italian tempo markings in the suites is perhaps symptomatic of the relish with which he returned to instrumental composition, since he generally avoided them in his vocal works.) Britten’s cello writing reveals the influence of Bach in its skilful suggestion of a harmonic dimension by purely linear means, and in the fugues which appear in all three suites Britten even shows himself able to create the illusion of several apparently independent contrapuntal parts by subtle displacements of a single melodic line. In spite of these intriguing technical experiments, Britten’s musical conceptions are never superficial: the technical demands placed on the soloist are always inextricable from genuine musical substance, much in the manner of Chopin’s Études or Bach’s ‘48’.

The Suite No 1 was composed in November and December 1964 and was Britten’s first major score after completing the church parable Curlew River; it received its premiere at the Aldeburgh Festival on 27 June 1965. In the manner of much of Britten’s music in this period, a ritornello theme (here entitled Canto) is used to link the constituent sections, and to provide an outer frame. The remainder of the music falls into six distinct movements: an ingenious Fuga (Andante moderato), Lamento (Lento rubato), a pizzicato Serenata (Allegretto; the homage here is to Debussy, whose Cello Sonata Britten had recorded with Rostropovich in 1961), Marcia (Alla marcia moderato), Bordone (Moderato quasi recitativo) and a concluding Moto perpetuo (Presto) that merges with the final restatement of the ritornello. When Britten had first sent Rostropovich the score and expressed some lack of confidence in it, the cellist responded in January 1965: ‘Dear, darling, beloved Ben of genius, the surprise which I received here in Paris via Marion [Harewood, Britten’s friend, who had delivered a copy of the manuscript], was stupefying!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You write in the letter that you don’t consider this work too successful. I looked at it, so far only on paper, but I tell you honestly: either you are too stupid to understand what a piece you have created or it is simply pretence! You have again produced a masterpiece! The greatest thanks for making me so happy.’

from notes by Mervyn Cooke © 2013

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Details for CDA66274 track 4
Canto segundo: Sostenuto
Recording date
6 December 1987
Recording venue
Seldon Hall, Haberdashers' Aske's School, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Thomas Daye
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Britten: Cello Suites (CDA66274)
    Disc 1 Track 4
    Release date: April 1988
    Archive Service
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