Britten: Solo Cello Suites


Also available on DVD

Joining several discs from Signum celebrating 2013’s Britten Centenary Year comes a new collection of the three Suites for Solo Cello, performed by star UK cellist Jamie Walton. Recorded in the Britten Studio at Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, the three suites were dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich, with the passionate third in particular inspired by Rostropovich’s rich and romantic performances of Bach’s unaccompanied suites.

Jamie Walton has established a reputation as a performer who deeply engages with the works he performs and records. Earlier this year he released a new recording of cello concertos by Schumann and Dvorak with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy (SIGCD322):

"What has impressed me so much with regard to this account of the Dvorak is the oneness of conception between soloist and conductor. I am sure much preparation went into this performance: they are fully integrated, so we hear the work as a totality, not as a piece for virtuoso solo cello with orchestral accompaniment. This is, of its kind, a masterly performance” International Record Review


What people are saying

"Britten’s suites for solo cello are not perhaps an easy listen any more than they are easy to play, but Jamie Walton’s absorbing performances of all three seem to expose and explore the emotional heart and soul that went into the writing of them." The Daily Telegraph, July 2013 

"A musical triumph, captured in first-rate sound." Sinfini Music, July 2013 

"None of this music holds terrors for Walton, with his big, bold tone and formidable technique." The Sunday Times, July 2013

Jamie Walton, cello

Release date:1st Jul 2013
Order code:SIGCD336
Barcode: 635212033623

August 2013

“I certainly write music for human beings,” said Britten in 1964. And great music does not necessarily come in great quantities. As with Bach, Britten does not employ overwhelming force to display his immense talent for communication. These cello suites attain an almost religious feeling; it’s impossible to simply sit there impassively and listen. Concentration has to be at its most acute before one can begin to enjoy these extraordinary works. Britten himself explained that he was lucky to have performers for whom to compose – and who better than Rostropovich? Not to detract from Jamie Walton, whose attentiveness is magnificent, inducing the same level of aural experience for the listener. This is no easy task, but Britten helps here too because one can recognise the traits of this marvellous composer, such as his sense of humour, even on these formal occasions. There are also reflections of Shostakovich here and there, surely as a homage to the great man, and the suite No 3 also reflects this Russian spirit, based as they are on three Tchaikovsky songs. Jamie Walton plays impeccably, with a sweet yet raw sound when needed. Surely knowing that it was recorded in The Britten Studio at The Maltings can only add genuine atmosphere to this excellent CD. It is not just a man and his cello: Britten and thousands of other influences make these work gigantic.

Auditorium Magazine, Eduardo Jacobo Benarroch

September 2013
Jamie Walton visited us in 2009, playing Tchaikovsky with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. In conversation, the English cellist was fervent in his opinions, criticising the craze for competitions, tempting players to pursue technical excellence rather than individuality of sound.
He cited Yehudi Menuhin and Alfred Cortot, who may not have carried off awards in their time, but had the poetic genius to make them great artists and, most importantly, channellers of music.
Walton’s own gift for communication comes through on his new recording of Britten’s Cello Suites, one of the most enterprising releases in the composer’s centenary year.
These three works, written between 1964 and 1971 for Mstislav Rostropovich, look to Bach for inspiration. Britten, however, punctuates his fugues and passacaglias with marches and barcarolles where his predecessor had allemandes and sarabandes.
All three Suites offer an array of musical character pieces, as one might expect from the man who made his mark, in 1937, with his Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge.
With a recording that delivers the intimacy of a house concert, Walton offers a veritable gallery of characters. He plucks up images of Spain in the First Suite’s Serenata, followed by a ghostly march that affectionately nods to Prokofiev.
These works, which can easily be a succession of isolated movements, have a gripping continuity.
The Declamato that opens the Second Suite is an eloquent karanga that draws you into a 19-minute journey, ending with Walton’s brilliant Ciaccona, in which Britten pays homage to the great Bach Chaconne.
The Third Suite, written in 1971, was not performed for three years as Rostropovich had been detained in Russia. Walton catches the intense emotions running close to the surface as Britten incorporated various pieces of Russian music.
A tender Lento leads into an edgy march and, eventually, a Barcarolle that (was a pun intended?) contemplates Bach’s very first Prelude.

New Zealand Herald, William Dart

August 2013
As a prelude to this year’s North York Moors Chamber Music Festival comes this recording of Britten’s solo suites played by the Festival’s founder Jamie Walton.  I find it even more searching and perceptive than the outgoing recording from Rostropovich for whom they were composed.  Walton’s unique unhurried approach allowing us to savour every detail in the three extended scores.  At times musing in quiet contemplation though always with abundant technique when required these are remarkable performances in close focus recording.’ 

Yorkshire Post, David Denton

July 2013
A fine account of Britten’s solo cello music, inspired by admiration of Rostropovich, and stemming from a "challenging" period of this cellist’s life.
There is an ample note by M.Ross, explaining the complicate relationships between Britten, Rostropovich and Sacher.
An excellent CD but do listen to the Suites one at a time!

Musical Pointers, Peter Grahame Woolf

July 2013

Composed for the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich in 1964, ’67 and ’71 respectively, as their collective title implies, Britten’s three unaccompanied cello suites look back to the dance forms and textures of the 16th and 17th centuries. Each one features a fugue along the way, the second and third climax in ‘ancient’ variation forms – a chaconne and passacaglia respectively – and the first and third suites feature cantos, marches and moto perpetuos. On the one hand they look backwards for inspiration, but on the other sound thoroughly contemporary in expression. Perhaps that is why Rostropovich’s readings (he commercially recorded only nos.1 and 2) tend to fall between two interpretative stools by drawing ostensibly on the 19th-century Romantic tradition. They are also typically larger than life and positivist in profile, when much of this music is deeply thoughtful and introspective.

Enter Jamie Walton, who has already made distinguished recordings of the Cello Symphony and Cello Sonata for Signum and who gets right under the skin of these elusive masterpieces via a bewitching dynamic range and phrasal intuitiveness. If Rostropovich has a tendency to pin you to your seat, Walton keeps you sat right on the edge, wondering just where he might be leading you next. This is playing that goes way beyond the notes themselves, uncovering with bewitching intensity what lies between and behind them.

For example, in the Second Suite’s central scherzo, Walton fully conveys the music’s raw emotional power, yet also retains an appropriate sense of dancing jocularity. In the Third Suite’s Barcarola he captures magically the swaying innocence of its opening, making the sudden explosive climax feel all the more menacing. A musical triumph, captured in first-rate sound. 




Sinfini Music, Julian Haylock

July 2013

The three solo suites (1964-71) were written for Britten’s friend Mstislav Rostropovich. Britten references the great solo cello works by Bach with his neo-baroque titling of some of the movements, but in the melancholy slow pieces he pays tribute to the music of Rostropovich’s Russian homeland, with cantilenas redolent of doleful folk songs. In the third, he quotes three Tchaikovsky arrangements and the funeral Kontakion (the Russian Orthodox Hymn to the Departed). Walton completes his survey of Britten’s cello music with this disc, including the theme for a composite piece dedicated to Paul Sacher. None of this music holds terrors for Walton, with his big, bold tone and formidable technique.

The Sunday Times, Hugh Canning

July 2013
Britten’s suites for solo cello are not perhaps an easy listen any more than they are easy to play, but Jamie Walton’s absorbing performances of all three seem to expose and explore the emotional heart and soul that went into the writing of them. Listen, for example, to the Lamento of the First Suite from 1964, and you immediately have the measure both of Britten’s creative intensity and of Walton’s interpretative breadth and depth.
Britten’s dual inspiration for these works came from the Baroque tradition crowned by Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites of about 1720 and from the supreme, outgoing and inwardly expressive artistry of Mstislav Rostropovich. The friendship between Britten and Rostropovich yielded not only these three suites but also the Cello Sonata and the Cello Symphony. It was from Bach that Britten probably gleaned the technique of exploiting the cello’s ability to imply harmonic contours and textural counterpoint despite its being an essentially linear instrument.
Spurred by Rostropovich’s personality and musicianship, he forged music of kaleidoscopic colour, diversity of character and comprehensive technical resourcefulness. The switches of temperament in the Second Suite of 1967, for example, lead to an aggressive Scherzo being poignantly framed by the more contemplative, fragile Fuga and fourth-movement Andante, with the final Ciaccona hardly any less impressive or challenging than the famous Ciaccona in Bach’s D minor Violin Partita.
The Third Suite, composed in 1971 and revised in 1974, is an even more direct homage to Rostropovich in that it takes its cue from Russian folk melodies and also from the Orthodox Kontakion of the Dead, all manipulated with Britten’s typical ingenuity. Here again, Walton’s range of utterance is rich, subtly inflected and a towering testament to his innate musicality and profound thinking.


The Daily Telegraph, Geoffrey Norris

  1. Suite No. 1, Op. 72: Canto primo: Sostenuto e largamente – Benjamin Britten – 2.08
  2. Suite No. 1, Op. 72: I. Fuga: Andante moderato – Benjamin Britten – 3.54
  3. Suite No. 1, Op. 72: II. Lamento: Lento rubato – Benjamin Britten – 2.15
  4. Suite No. 1, Op. 72: Canto secundo: Sostenuto – Benjamin Britten – 1.07
  5. Suite No. 1, Op. 72: III. Serenata: Allegretto (pizzicato) – Benjamin Britten – 2.10
  6. Suite No. 1, Op. 72: IV. Marcia: Alla marcia moderato – Benjamin Britten – 3.24
  7. Suite No. 1, Op. 72: Canto terzo: Sostenuto – Benjamin Britten – 1.46
  8. Suite No. 1, Op. 72: V. Bordone: Moderato quasi recitativo – Benjamin Britten – 2.29
  9. Suite No. 1, Op. 72: VI. Moto perpetuo e Canto quarto: Presto – Benjamin Britten – 2.55
  10. Suite No. 2, Op. 80: I. Declamato: Largo – Benjamin Britten – 3.07
  11. Suite No. 2, Op. 80: II. Fuga: Andante – Benjamin Britten – 3.48
  12. Suite No. 2, Op. 80: III. Scherzo: Allegro molto – Benjamin Britten – 1.47
  13. Suite No. 2, Op. 80: IV. Andante lento – Benjamin Britten – 4.18
  14. Suite No. 2, Op. 80: V. Ciaccona: Allegro – Benjamin Britten – 6.25
  15. Suite No. 3, Op. 87: I. Introduzione: Lento – Benjamin Britten – 1.50
  16. Suite No. 3, Op. 87: II. Marcia: Allegro – Benjamin Britten – 1.28
  17. Suite No. 3, Op. 87: III. Canto: Con moto – Benjamin Britten – 1.01
  18. Suite No. 3, Op. 87: IV. Barcarola: Lento – Benjamin Britten – 1.15
  19. Suite No. 3, Op. 87: V. Dialogo: Allegretto – Benjamin Britten – 1.40
  20. Suite No. 3, Op. 87: VI. Fuga: Andante espressivo – Benjamin Britten – 2.09
  21. Suite No. 3, Op. 87: VII. Recitativo: Fantastico – Benjamin Britten – 1.02
  22. Suite No. 3, Op. 87: VIII. Moto perpetuo: Presto – Benjamin Britten – 0.50
  23. Suite No. 3, Op. 87: IX. Passacaglia: Lento solenne – Benjamin Britten – 3.37
  24. Suite No. 3, Op. 87: X. (molto simplice) – Benjamin Britten – 3.26
  25. Tema ‘Sacher’ – Benjamin Britten – 1.22

Please note, we cannot guarantee that any orders placed after December 17 will arrive before Christmas, or that any orders placed after December 18 will be dispatched before the New Year. Dismiss