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Pieter Wispelwey - Walton Cello Concerto etc

Philadelpia Enquirer 9 August 2009

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Walton Cello Concerto

with Solo Cello Works by Bloch, Britten and Ligeti

Dutch cellist Wispelwey, now in middle age, is at a point in his career where he's setting interpretive standards in addition to technical ones, at least in these strong-minded discs, which juxtapose 20th-century concertos against little-known unaccompanied cello works by major composers. Those thrilled by the Prokofiev Sinfonia when performed by the Curtis Symphony Orchestra a few months back will be relieved to find this excellent new performance, which is truly able to encompass the sprawling piece. No Prokofiev gesture is too large or oblique for Wispelwey to find any number of telling details. In the Walton, Wispelwey is crisp almost to the point of brusqueness - welcome in a concerto whose suaveness can hide its own importance.

The unaccompanied cello works that fill out both discs are a mixed lot but mostly worth hearing. On the Prokofiev disc, Crumb's Sonata for Cello Solo is a student work that sounds nothing like later pieces, though an inquiring mind is definitely evident. Tcherepnin's Asian-tinged Suite for Solo Cello isn't so lucky. The Walton disc filler is more appetizing: Though Ligeti's excellent Sonata for Solo Cello is widely recorded, Bloch's rugged, little-known Suite No. 1 is not, and though Walton's 10 Passacaglia for Solo Cello shows the composer in decline, it's a good counterpoint to the more youthful concerto.

-David Patrick Stearns

theStrad July09
The main pieces on this disc are linked by date rather than genre, all being products of the 1950s. Pieter Wispelwey writes evocatively in the booklet of recording of recording the Walton Concerto live in the Sydney Opera House - 'no patching sessions, every note played with some 2000 people present'. It's a ravishing performance. Sydney, he writes seemed like a metropolitan version of Walton's Ischia, and the searing tone of the 1760 guadagnini he plays brilliantly conveys the vivid colours and shimmering heat.
The cello's first-movement entry is lyrical and flowing, with singing double-stopping passages. The instrument's gutty lower strings bite expressively in the spiky scherzo and the two solo cadenzas of the theme-and-variations finale enter a new and private sound sound world more akin to the bloch that follows, so that the full orchestral crash comes as a particularly brutal shock. Rather pleasingly, the last three notes of the solo line, relaxing down on to a long low C, are taken up in the reverse at the beginning of Bloch's Bach-inspired Suite, played on the 1698 'Magg' Stradivari on which Wispelwey performs the remainder of the disc. More muted in its lower registers, the instrument's sound nevertheless shines brightly in the high tessitura passages, and the Canzona is poignantly haunting, as Wispelwey plays to the slight reverberence in the recording acoustic, letting the sound of each phrase die away.
Ligeti's solo sonata of 1948/53 is a clear forerunner of Britten's more celebrated unaccompanied works, with the distinctive timbre of its low double-stops, manic presto and glissando pizzicato chords making it all addictive listening
Janet Banks     
Gramophone June 09
The inspired Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey here couples the Walton Cello Concerto with a sequence of works for unaccompanied cello. As one would expect, his playing is flawless, though in the Walton the fast passages like the central Scherzo are more successful in their brilliance than the slow ruminative ones, which tend to meander a little without focusing quite as they should. The Scherzo is tautly held together with the soloist luxuriating in the brief expansive moments, while the final Passacaglia, much the longest movement, is also a success, no mean feat when the broad reflectiveness predominates, set in contrast only with two brief fast variations.
Nevertheless it is a fine reading which adds to an impressive list of versions, and the coupling is unique. There the problem may be that such a sequence of solo cello music tends to lack contrast, sharply distinctive as each of the composers are. The Bloch Suite in four movements finds Wispelwey, as in the Walton, most successful in the fast, brilliant movements, closing with a jolly dance in triple time.
The movements of the Ligeti are more distinctive, while the Walton Passacaglia is the work he wrote for Rostropovich, hoping (in vain) that it would persuade him to play the concerto. The Britten is welcome too, but still seems a little lost separated from the Suite written for Rostropovich.
Edward Greenfield 
In one of his characteristic notes, this time to gregor Piatigorsky (dedicatee of the cello concerto), William Walton wrote "I think it's the best of my three concertos - but don't tell Jascha" (Heifetz, for whom Walton had composed his violin concerto). That judgement might be open to debate but it is good to welcome a new recording of this fine work from perhaps an unexpected source and to hear it played with such passion and conviction.
Pieter Wispelwey obviously loves Walton's Cello Concert and writes a rather flowery preface in the booklet - his description of the cello concerto entering "like an albatross taking to the air" might have provoked an interesting reaction from the sharp-tongued composer!  
.....This recording taken from performances given in Sydney Opera House and with exemplary balance between soloist and orchestra with a notably quiet audience, a couple of moments aside. Jeffrey Tate, a fine Waltonian, secures orchestral detail that is fine and precise, not least in the tricky central scherzo, in which he doesn't fall into the trap of playing everything fast, loud and brash and forget everything else. Having said that, the first movement seems too slow. walton writes Moderato. In a recorded performance with the composer conducting the overall timing is over two minutes less than on this current release. The slower tempi adopted by Wispelwey and Tate certainly gives the soloist time to sing out the long melodies but in a lethargic manner that allows the underlying, bubbling tension at the heart of the pretty much everything wrote to sag. however, the finale, a theme and variations, is well defined, individual characteristics coming through well - the orchestra is outstanding here and Wispelwey's accounts of the second and fourth variations (in effect dramatic cadenzas) are pretty breathtaking. The striking return the opening material at the end of the concerto can sometimes sound too much of a surprise, but here is handled in the most moving and effective way - shocking on the one hand but a natural release on the other; beautifully done.
Taken from a review by David Wordsworth
Pieter Wispelwey: Cellokonzerte von Walton, Bloch, Ligeti und Britten

Ulrike Klobes, kulturradio
Bewertung: grossartig
In Holland ist er ein gefeierter Star und einer der meist versprechensten Cellisten seiner Generation, obwohl er lange Zeit als Enfant terrible galt: Pieter Wispelwey hat sich der klassischen Cellistenkarriere immer entzogen, hat Wettbewerbe ausgeschlagen und empfohlene Lehrer abgelehnt. Bekannt geworden ist er mit der Einspielung der Bach-Cello-Suiten. Jetzt hat er ein neues Album mit Werken des 20. Jahrhundert herausgebracht. Pieter Wispelwey hat größtenteils unbekannte Kompositionen des 20. Jahrhunderts ausgewählt. Die Ciaccona von Benjamin Britten, eine frühe Cellosonate von György Ligeti und die Cellosuite von Ernest Bloch. Im Zentrum der CD steht das Cellokonzert von William Walton.
Waltons einziges Cellokonzert, 1956 geschrieben, ist ganz klar spätromantisch geprägt. Anders als die meisten Cello-Werke dieser Zeit hat Walton es nicht Mystislav Rostropovich, sondern dem ukrainischen Cellisten Gregor Piatigorsky gewidmet. Eingespielt hat Pieter Wispelwey das Konzert mit dem Sydney Symphony Orchestra unter der Leitung von Jeffrey Tate. Wispelwey war von Anfang an von diesem Konzert begeistert. Gerade von der Melodie im ersten Satz. Er selbst hat dazu gesagt: Wenn das Cello nach dem kurzen
Vorspiel des Orchesters das erste Mal einsetzt, sei das, als ob ein Albatros abhebe. Am Anfang noch ein etwas mühevoll und wenig elegant, dann aber immer beeindruckender und gemächlicher und schließlich sogar majestätisch. Mit den Werken von Walton, Bloch, Ligeti und Britten hat Pieter Wispelwey sich ein Repertoire ausgesucht, bei dem das Cello durchweg glänzen kann. Und genau das tut Pieter Wispelwey: Mit einem warmen und leidenschaftlichen Ton, der aber nie die Grenze zum Kitschigen überschreitet. Nicht nur Waltons Cello-Konzert, auch die Solo-Werke überzeugen. Auf diesem Album stimmt einfach alles. Die Zusammenstellung – eine solide Mischung aus Traditionalisten und Moderisten, die Interpretation, der Klang. Eine wirklich empfehlenswerte CD, wenn man sich einmal der nicht so bekannten Celloliteratur des 20. Jahrhunderts widmen möchte.
Daily Telegraph - Geoffrey Norris 15.3.09 Disc of the Week ****
Michael Kennedy -London Sunday Telegraph 16.3.09 ****
A disc of superb perfromances of post-1945 cello music by Pieter Wispelwey. I do not know of a finer performance of the Walton Concerto...
Anna Picard - The Independent on Sunday 16.3.09
Pieter Wispelwey's recital is a thing of wild beauty.Wispelwey's sound is thrilling...the Sydney Symphony matches him gleam for gleam
London Evening Standard - Norman Lebrecht 11.3.09 ****
The Walton orphan has a new champion. Never as catchy as his violin concerto, the cello piece is delivered with pensive beauty by a daring Dutchman, Peter Wispelwey, and the excellent Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Jeffrey Tate. The companion works - by Bloch, Ligeti and Britten – provide an altogether novel context, one that will oblige you to rethink Walton’s known qualities.