BRITTEN: Cello Suites Nos. 1-3

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Benjamin Britten (1913 - 1976)

Cello Suites Nos. 1 -3, Opp. 72, 80 & 87

Suffolk-born, Suffolk-died, Britten studied in the 1930s under Frank Bridgeand John Ireland. Among the most influential of his masters in absentia hecounted Bach, Mozart and Schubert. From Purcell, he said, he learnt how tohandle the English language in song. The twentieth century greats, from Berg andMahler to Schoenberg and Stravinsky, touched him profoundly. Folklorist,scholar, performer, his gift was precocious, his creative imagination boundless,his inventive and technical facility consumately honed. Intensely dedicated andselflessly devoted, he was the complete private artist and public professional.

No elitist, Britten was an unpretentious communicator, a composer for allintellects. Deceptively simple, an absolute master of the economical gesture, heknew how to touch emotions and trigger reactions at many differing levels ofimpact. "I believe in roots, in associations, in backgrounds, in personalrelationships:' he said on receiving the first Aspen Award in 1964. "I wantmy music to be of use to people, to please them, to 'enhance their lives' (touse Berenson's phrase). I do not write for posterity..." This did notprevent complex currents and contradictions from running through his work. Thepoised man of outwardly accessible manner was inwardly anything but. In 1949,four years after Peter Grimes (the rebirth of operatic conscience inEngland), Aaron Copland rated him "fairly difficult" to grasp, bycomparison with Shostakovich ("very easy") or Walton ("quiteapproachable"). Shortly afterwards, introducing him to readers of TheRecord Guide (1951), Edward Sackville-West and Desmond Shawe-Taylor rightlyrecognised in his make-up an elusive "poetic charm ...covered, but notexplained, by the word genius ...", yet conceded that his essentialpersonality ("a deep nostalgia for the innocence of childhood, a mercurialsense of humour, and a passionate sympathy with the victims of prejudice ormisunderstanding") was far from simple. "At the centre of hismusic," wrote Donald Mitchell in 1972, "there is an intensely solitaryand private spirit, a troubled, sometimes even despairing visionary, an artistmuch haunted by nocturnal imagery, by sleep, by presentiments of mortality, acreator preternaturally aware of the destructive appetite (the ever-hungry beastin the jungle) that feeds on innocence, virtue and grace". Britten'slifework was an unsettling autobiography of illusory consonance, of cadencesthat left unbalmed the deep-seated psychological tensions and scars of hischildhood and youth. He may have been a messenger of sounds seen to be soundedyet what he "cherished most" was "night and silence". He was"a man at odds with the world," Bernstein believed (1980). "It'sstrange, because on the surface Britten's music would seem to be decorative,positive, charming, but it's so much more than that. When you hear Britten'smusic, if you really hear it, not just listen to it superficially, youbecome aware of something very dark. There are gears that are grinding and notquite meshing, and they make a great pain". For Robert Tear (to HumphreyCarpenter, 1991), "there was a great, huge abyss in his soul. That's myexplanation of why the music becomes thinner and thinner as time passed. He gotinto the valley of the shadow of death and couldn't get out" When Brittendied, only the London Daily Telegraph braved English reserve to give himhis proper public due: "the truly towering talent of his age". Asentiment shared by his old friend and fellow-traveller Michael Tippett:"the most purely musical person I have ever met and I have ever known"(The Listener, 16th December 1976).

The decade from 1961 to 1971 was one of chamber music, song-cycles, folksettings, church parables, the War Requiem and the television opera OwenWingrave. It was about the survival of the Aldeburgh Festival and theconversion, burning-down and re-building of the old barley Maltings at Snape. Itwas about Mahler and oriental exotica. And it was one of life-bonding newfriendships with the dissident faction of the Soviet enemy face, Shostakovich,Richter, Vishnevskaya, Rostropovich. Rostropovich was a unique inspiration. Itwas for him that Britten wrote his Cello Sonata Op. 65 (1961), CelloSymphony, Op. 68 (1962-63), and three unaccompanied Cello Suites, Opp. 72

(November / December 1964), 80 (August 1967) and 87 (February 1971), as well asa set of cadenzas for the Haydn C major Concerto (1964), all, with theexception of the Cello Symphony, first heard at Aldeburgh.

The multi-movement Cello Suites, Britten's reply to Each, whose cyclehe had heard Rostropovich play, are as strikingly personal in character as theyare a direct response to the re-creative resource and technical pre-eminence oftheir dedicatee. William Mann considered the first "less harmlessthan it first sounds" (a familiar Britten paradox), with"discomforting harmonic implications" (London The Times, 2ndJuly 1965). "Sheer genius" admired Rostropovich of the Third (scribblednote, 22nd May 1972). "Less concerned with exploring the possibilities ofthe solo cello in the hands of a master and with depicting sinister nocturnalmoods, [it] has nevertheless much to arrest and delight, notably a fascinatingfugue, spidery and strong as spider's webs are, with a delicate, purposefulstrength" was Ronald Crichton's reaction to the Second (Musical Times, August1968).

The First Suite is in nine movements: three pairs of two each,prefaced and divided by three Cantos. The ingenously-wrought Fuga echoesbaroque models; the Serenata suggests Debussy; the Bordone supportsthemes variously reminiscent of ideas from Britten's wartime Violin Concerto aswell as the Elgar Cello Concerto. Old-world values return in the Fuga andfinal Ciaccona (on a five-bar ground) of the Second Suite. Atmosphericallyweighted, the Third, like the First also in nine movements (Introduzione,Marcia, Canto, Barcarolla, Dialogo, Fuga, Recitativo [fantastico], Moto perpetuo,Passacaglia), is a more emotionally charged statement, linked by threeTchaikovsky-arranged folksongs (The grey eagle, Autumn, Under the littleapple tree) and the Orthodox Kontakion (or Hymn for the Dead).

Britten enigmatically pre-echoes, varies and disperses these Russian tunesthroughout the work before successively stating them in their original form atthe end of the closing Passacaglia.

?® 1996 Ateş Orga

Tim Hugh

The British cellist Tim Hugh established a flourishing career throughoutEurope after winning two top prizes in the 1990 Tchaikovsky competition inMoscow, and now appears regularly with many of Europe's leading orchestras. Inrecent years he has toured Japan, Germany, Poland, Norway, Spain, Switzerland,Bulgaria and Italy, while in his own country he has performed with all the BBCorchestras as well as with the other major orchestras. Now joint principalcellist with the London Symphony Orchestra, he has performed with them Messagesquisseunder Pierre Boulez, Don Quixote under Previn and Messiaen's Concertoa Quatre under Kent Nagano. Tim Hugh has made many recordings of chambermusic and is now embarking on major recording projects with Naxos. These includethe three C.P.E.
Item number 8553663
Barcode 730099466325
Release date 12/01/1999
Category Cello
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Hugh, Tim
Hugh, Tim
Composers Britten, Benjamin
Britten, Benjamin
Producers Harrison, Tony
Harrison, Tony
Disc: 1
Cello Suite No. 3, Op. 87
1 Canto primo: Sostenuto e largamente
2 I. Fuga: Andante moderato
3 II. Lamento: Lento rubato
4 Canto secondo: Sostenuto
5 III. Serenata: Allegretto (pizzicato)
6 IV. Marcia: Alla marcia moderato
7 Canto terzo: Sostenuto
8 V. Bordone: Moderato quasi recitativo
9 Moto perpetuo e Canto quarto: Presto
10 Declamato: Largo
11 Fuga: Andante
12 Scherzo: Allegro molto
13 Andante lento
14 Ciaccona: Allegro
15 Introduzione: Lento
16 Marcia: Allegro
17 Canto: Con Moto
18 Barcarolla: Lento
19 Dialogo: Allegretto
20 Fuga: Andante espressivo
21 Recitativo: Fantastico
22 Moto perpetuo: Presto
23 Passacaglia: Lento solenne
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