Pieter Wispelwey’s Britten Suites chosen as best recording of the work by BBC Music Magazine

1 October 2022

In Jo Talbot's recent "Britten's Cello Suite No. 1: a guide to Britten's cello masterpiece and its best recordings" for Classical Music Magazine, Pieter Wispelwey's 2002 recording was hailed

Read Talbot's thoughts on Wispelwey's great recording in its 20th anniversary year below, and the full piece on Classical Music here. You can listen to Wispelwey's Three Suites for Violoncello Solo, released on Channel Classics, on Spotify here.

"Rostropovich’s legacy lives on not only in his recordings, but also in his detailed fingerings and editing of Britten’s score. When speaking about works written for him, he once said that he would be delighted if someone else played them an hour later. Clearly, he recognised this creative musical legacy, but was aware that to develop, it would need to accommodate new approaches – each score is a road map which a performer has to interpret.

When teaching the Britten to his pupils, Rostropovich said they had to find the emotional core, as it was essential to feel the poetic nature behind the composition. He also laid great emphasis on finding compelling transitions between moods and tempos – one of the major challenges in the Suites is that movements often lead into each other.

These interpretative issues and solutions are what distinguish the finest performances. Both in terms of emotional intensity and in finding the poetry within the score, Pieter Wispelwey’s 2002 recording proves utterly exceptional – and that is within a very distinguished roster of interpretations.

The testing ‘Canto Primo’ is delivered with tremendous power, but the pauses never allow the intensity to diminish. The voicing with the double stops is eloquent and the dynamic range and articulation compelling. Intellect and artistry are in harness in the ‘Fuga’, where Wispelwey etches the contrapuntal lines with clarity whilst allowing fantasy in the semiquaver section. After the baroque-style cadences, the opening subject returns in fiery fury and receives a scorching rendition. As the movement progresses, the fervour recedes, only to vanish before our ears in the closing harmonics.

Wispelwey’s depiction of the ‘Lamento’ is wondrously poignant, connecting the tonally challenged quavers, but magically creating a sense of space. A feeling of exotic excitement infuses his ‘Serenata’ as the guitar-like figuration springs rhythmic surprises.

A mesmerising Spanish intensity remains in the ‘Marcia’ middle section – again characterised by anguished passion before the final harmonics lead into the ‘Canto Terzo’. Here the double stops are flawlessly voiced. The folk-like drone of the ‘Bordone’ with the punctuating left-hand pizzicatos is seamlessly performed before a charged Moto perpetuo leaves you holding onto the edge of your seat. How perfectly ‘Canto Quattro’ assumes its place in the musical invention, and with what emotional heat! This is simply breath-taking playing."

Photo by Oona Bovri.

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