"Jamie Walton’s ability to cope effortlessly with any technical difficulty may appear self-evident, but it should not. Here an outstandingly virtuosic talent is developing, but above all a sensitive interpreter, who has perceived exactly what each composer requires from the soloist and from the orchestra. Jamie Walton manages to fulfil these expectations and in addition bestows an emotional depth upon both works which shows them to their best. He is perfectly supported by the brilliant Philharmonia Orchestra under conductor Alexander Briger, who is both an attentive accompanist and able to take the lead when necessary.
A grandmaster of his instrument is coming to maturity here, and this CD, with its technically faultless recording quality, should have a place in any collection. It deserves it." *****
"Shostakovich and Britten, who formed something of a mutual appreciation society in later years, make an insightful pairing on this follow-up CD to Walton’s impressive Elgar/Myaskovsky release. Both pieces were written for Rostropovich , Shostakovich’s affecting Cello Concerto - he called it his “14th symphony with cello part” - is tinged with the surreal; Britten’s Cello Symphony is more meaty, its jaggedly swelling chords unsettling and brilliant, the cello integrated into the orchestral fabric. Walton is a superb and unflashy exponent - theres no ego here, just consummate musicianship, excellently backed by the Philharmonia under Alex Briger, sensitive and biting in the Shostakovich, formidable and powerful in the Britten."
Sarah Urwin Jones
The Times - 6 December 2008
"It is proving a good year for Shostakovich’s cello concertos, with this brooding account of No. 2 from Jamie Walton joininh recent releases by Daniel Muller- Schott (orfeo) and Pieter Wispelwey (Channel Classics). No 1 may be better known, but the Second presents the greater interpretative challenge, and Walton’s sinewy playing, full of perceptive solutions to the concerto’s many enigmas, traces a well-argued route through the music. He couples it with an equally compeling performance of Britten’s Cello Symphony."
The Daily Telegraph - 6 December 2008
"These are well-matched works by two friends, and Jamie Walton follows his memorable Elgar with superb performances of them both, reaching deep into their often sombre and tragic musings . . Alexander Briger’s conducting of the Philharmonia supplies the perfect backcloth for the emotional drama, as it does also in Britten’s Cello Symphony, not the easiest of his orchestral works to take to one’s heart, but one that repays close study, especially in such an eloquent interpretation." *****
The Daily Telegraph - 2 November 2008
"Shostakovich and Britten were firm friends and admirers of each other’s music, despite working in utterly different political atmospheres, so this pairing makes perfect sense. Both works are dedicated to the great Rostropovich, whose musular technique and the big tone is evoked here by the impressive Jamie Walton, who explores the brooding darkness of both pieces with the Philharmonia Orchestra under the commanding Alexander Briger. It’s all splendidly done, but no one can pretend it’s comfortable listening; the cello is, after all, the perfect instrument to lay bare the soul."
The Observer - 1 December 2008
"The second Shostakovich cello concerto never matched the appeal of the first. Even Slava Rostropovich struggled to make it wince, let alone smile. Walton, a young British cellist, takes a less stressed approach, making the most of the melodic fragments. His approach to the Britten Cello Symphony is almost the opposite. He goes for the sweeping gesture, redeeming the piece of its intermittent stutters. More than just performance, it is an act of interpretation." ****
The Evening Standard - 26 November 2008
"...If you only buy one recording in 2009, it should be this one."
Mvdaily.com - January 2009
"The Cello Symphony is Britten at pretty much his darkest, and Jamie Walton takes no prisoners in this unflinchingly articulated performance. You get an immediate reality check as Walton digs deep, glowering swathes of tone from his 1712 Guarneri in the threatening cutlass strokes launching the Allegro maestoso’s opening paragraph. The instrument again sings gloriously, higher in its register, in the recitative-like introduction to the Adagio. That movement is given a stunningly concentrated performance, with superbly characterful playing from the Philharmonia Orchestra under Alexander Briger, and a broodingly rapt cadenza from the soloist. Earlier Walton demonstrates a master’s chops in the skeetering, scatter-gun writing of the Presto inquieto, where prodigious bow control and lightning shifts in dynamic are necessary. Walton has both in spades, unquestionably.
His account of the Britten is so good it arguably tips on its head the glib assumption that Shostakovich’s Second is musically the finer concerto. What’s not in doubt is the quality of Walton’s performance of the Shostakovich, again uncompromisingly confronting the grimness of the musical argument, and catching the cuttingly laconic mood of the central Allegretto with particular sharpness and acuity. Both these pieces were written for Mstislav Rostropovich: it’s saying something for the quality of Walton’s work here that comparisons with that great player would be not so much odious as sheer impertinent."
MUSO - November 2008
"There is no disputing that Jamie Walton is a tremendous artist. He is endowed with the type of musicianship that pierces through recordings and demands complete attention. His performance of Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto and Britten’s Cello Symphony testifies clearly not only to his uncommon talent, but to a maturity beyond his years.
The choice of programme is striking. These two compositions come from the nineteen-sixties, and while neither Shostakovich nor Britten have ever belonged to the school of angry modernism, writing a concerto—that most romantic of genres —posed serious problems to any composer from the period. The solutions offered by Shostakovich and Britten are the products of two musical minds in the golden years of their maturity, and require not only mastery, but great thoughtfulness, versatility and control.
Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto opens with a slow, brooding movement in which cello and lower strings engage in a dialogue of meandering melodic lines. The sonority clearly quotes the opening of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta—a quotation intensified by the pervasive use of the xylophone. This is significant in that the cello here is an orchestral voice as much as a solo—and is requested to adjust to different roles at incredible speed.
The concerto is dominated by the recurring motif of a repeated falling semitone from the opening of the Largo, and a martial rhythmic figuration from the beginning of the Allegretto. Typically both elements are combined in the brilliantly obsessive last movement. The greatest merit of Walton’s playing here is his ability to channel his phenomenal technique into conveying the music’s Janus-faced nature, always turning from lyrical sigh of the cello to the hobbling, grotesque dance that is one of the staples of Shostakovich’s poetics.
Britten’s Cello Symphony, composed around the same time, and for the very same cellist as the Shostakovich (Mstislav Rostropovich), makes for a wellbalanced second half. An advantage on this work is that it treats the orchestra with a grandeur that is mostly eschewed by Shostakovich, thus allowing Alexander Briger to show off the richness of the Philarmonia’s orchestral hues.
The work is thoroughly fragmented structurally—much more so than the Shostakovich; the cello’s hiccupping entries in the first movement give way to the frantic switch between motum perpetuum and lyricism in the second movement, while the third movement contrasts the low, majestic bass with the charmed suspension of flourishes in the mid-to-high register.
Yet it is the slight tendency towards stylistic inconsistency—most obvious in the closing Passacaglia—which presents both orchestra and soloist with remarkable hurdles. Unsurprisingly, the Philarmonia and Jamie Walton stand up to the challenge magnificently, celebrating the kaleidoscopic variety with such vigour as to often turn the music’s shortcomings into assets.
All in all, the CD is nothing sort of a triumph for both the Philarmonia and Jamie Walton: superb musicianship is here a great match for the arduous nature of both compositions. When the music runs out, we are left wishing for more of the same —and soon." *****
MusicalCriticism.com - 25 November 2008
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