Mstislav Rostropovich was a central figure in the cello music of all three composers on this album Shostakovich, Britten and Prokofiev. The Britten and Prokofiev cello sonatas were both written for his electrifying artistry and big-hearted personality, and, as the album notes point out, the only reason Shostakovich did not write his own sonata with Rostropovich in mind was that the cellist was only a child of seven when it was completed in 1934.
The sonata is given a riveting performance by Jamie Walton and Daniel Grimwood. Theirs is a true partnership, responding with like minds to the lyrical, quizzical and visceral aspects of the sonata's trajectory.
Whether in the beautifully shaped second theme of the opening movement, the aggressive motor rhythms of the scherzo, the intense introspection of the slow movement or the weird mix of simplicity and hyperactivity in the finale, this is a performance that seems to strike right at the heart of the music. Britten's sonata of 1961 and Prokofiev's of 1949 make strong contrasting companion pieces and both are played here with palpable stylistic understanding. Walton's palette of sound on his 1712 Guarneri cello is applied with aptness and imagination, Grimwood matching and complementing him in expressive nuance, emotional poise and potent energy.
Individual episodes in the Britten are sharply focused in character but integrated into a broad, organic structure. The solemnity and dark hues at the start of the Prokofiev yield to his distinctive melody and harmony, conveyed here mellifluously and with telling inflections and, in the finale, with a blend of delicacy and robust rhythmicality. This is highly cultured playing, rich in enjoyment.