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Richly Moving

Jamie Walton
plays Shostakovich,
recommended by

Signum Classics    SIGCD137

Jamie Walton - Shostakovich and Britten. © 2008 Signum Records Ltd

Jamie (one still hesitates to use the name, instead of James, in one so gifted, like calling Joshua Bell Josh) Walton is astonishing, yet those in search of New Year cheer should perhaps look elsewhere. This is a bleak portrayal of a bleak piece (though Walton's fabulous upper-end technique gives his high sections a clarity that is almost violinistic) Yet even the more playful sections are constantly undercut by a near-neurotic sense of foreboding.

Listen -- Shostakovich: Allegretto (2nd movement, Cello Concerto No 2)
(track 2, 1:06-2:24) © 2008 Signum Records Ltd

This is Shostakovich at his most restless and unresolved. The moments of would-be humour in the second (allegretto) movement feel deliberately heavy-handed from both soloist and orchestra. The piccolos tease remorselessly, the horn taunts. And Walton rises to the bait: yet in stringent rather than flighty mode. His near-infallible technique is the servant of his belief in the music at this point as being near-malicious.

The horns are beyond praise at the start of the third movement, and, while a purist may object to the cadenza-like quality of the first cello entry in the third movement, I defy anyone to play the octaves any better.

Listen -- Shostakovich: Allegretto (3rd movement, Cello Concerto No 2)
(track 3, 0:00-1:09) © 2008 Signum Records Ltd

The elegiac quality of the section coming into bar 74 is extraordinary, yet there is no giving in to the temptation of softening the harshness of the orchestral malevolence that follows. His equal skill at accompaniment is amptly demonstrated by the extended section (ripe with tension) in the last movement leading into bar 303.

The section with solo orchestra cello principal is richly moving, as if, for a moment, the soloist has escaped into comraderie out of his loneliness. Yet the desolation of bar 429, combined with the pure sweetness of sound, mourns splendidly. Walton attempts to throw off his mood, with the percussion, at the very end, to no avail. The xylophone and wood block jeer in vain: the lion, with a final snarl, departs.

Listen -- Shostakovich: Allegretto (3rd movement, Cello Concerto No 2)
(track 3, 14:32-15:29) © 2008 Signum Records Ltd

Of course, I am biased. It's a concerto -- unlike Shostakovich's First cello concerto -- that I've never technically succeeded in mastering myself. And Walton was, famously, the 'last' pupil of my ex-teacher, Bill Pleeth -- while his Elgar with the Bromley Symphony, where I have led the cellos for twenty-five years, was amazing. But there is something almost frightening about this recording: not just the stunning chamber music quality of his interactions with solo strings and winds, but in its uncompromising commitment.

Still more impressively, Jamie Walton is incapable of playing two bars without cajoling his cello into a different mood. A different colour, a different texture, and Bill Pleeth is dancing around playing his cello standing up again, and is (as he deserves to be) immortal.

If you only buy one recording in 2009, it should be this one.

Copyright © 9 January 2009 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK




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