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DAVID WILKINS listens to Tim Hugh's Boccherini

NAXOS  8.553571

Record Box

Opportunities to sing yet another hymn of praise to the continuing delights of Naxos super-budget issues come thick and fast. Not only for the adventurousness and seeming inexhaustibility of the repertoire but also for the championing of younger artists of significant talent.

Cellist Tim Hugh has recently impressed me greatly on this label with recordings of Holst's Invocation (8.553696) and a Walton Cello Concerto (8.554325) that must be ranked as one of the finest available. Now he begins a series of the complete Boccherini concertos with engaging performances of four (numbering is a matter of some dispute) of these attractive Haydenesque works.

Boccherini Cello Concertos Vol. 1. (c) 1999 HNH International Ltd.Although he is accompanied by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra playing on modern string instruments, respect for historical performance practice is guaranteed by the presence of period specialist, Anthony Halstead, as conductor. Speeds tend towards the brisk (though never the breathless) and fairly light articulation keeps the sound fresh and entirely 'stodge'-free.

Each of the concertos lasts a little under twenty minutes and is in a fast-slow-fast, three movement format. They are not as great as the two Haydn concertos but full of charming invention, virtuoso display and tender delicacy. Those who, like me, first encountered the Boccherini cello repertoire through the advocacy of Jacqueline Du Pré might, at first, find Tim Hugh a somewhat restrained soloist. He certainly eschews grand rhetorical gestures and is modest of manner but not of means. Rapid high passagework never threatens his technique or intonation. There may be moments when the sound picture is more chamber-like than concertante but the result sounds entirely apt.

In the first C Major work (G.477) for example, the Largo is played with baroque-like stateliness and the restraint brings a rather special feeling of pensiveness. In the most familiar of the slow movements - that of the G Major concerto (track 8) - Hugh opts for inwardness rather than heart-on-sleeve emotionalism and the music is all the better for it.

There are, of course, moments when the soloist sings out a prouder statement in more full-bodied tone. The opening Allegro moderato (and the 'moderato' marking is not ignored, I was delighted to find) of the other C Major concerto (G.481) shows that he can be a big-voiced instrumentalist when he feels that is justified by the material. All of the finales skip along with the kind of sparkling momentum which makes foot-tapping so hard to resist. Two more volumes to come I guess, and, on this evidence, should be keenly anticipated.

Copyright © 15 March 2000 David Wilkins, Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK


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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Wednesday series of shorter CD reviews