Dvorak & Schumann


Jamie Walton is joined by the Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of their conductor laureate Vladimir Ashkenazy for this new concerto recording of concertos and orchestral works by Dvorák and Schumann. 
Jamie Walton has proved himself as a leading light in UK’s musical life; as a performer in his widely praised concerto and sonata recordings, and as a festival director in his work as founder of the North York Moors Festival, which was shortlisted for an RPS Award in 2011. 
Scroll down to watch a film on the making of this recording.

What people are saying

 "Inevitably, everyone will have their favourite performance of these two concertos, book-ending the 19th century cello concerto tradition. But Walton’s elegant, refined tone and singing style will win him many converts and this is a recording which I will be playing again." Robert Hugill

"The two concertos on either side of this lovely miniature, ably supported by the Philharmonia, confirm Walton as an artist with secure intuition in terms of style and with a manner of performing that speaks with natural fluency, eloquence and strength of purpose." The Telegraph, March 2013 

"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, April 2013

Jamie Walton, cello

Philharmonia Orchestra

Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor

Release date:11th Feb 2013
Order code:SIGCD322
Barcode: 635212032220

Jamie Walton, whom I’d not heard before, is a firm-bowed cellist with a dusky, resonant sound on the lower strings, a clear tone in the upper reaches and a reliable sense of style. He’s been working his way through the standard concertos on Signum Classics.

The soloist’s straightforward, no-nonsense musicality is an asset in the Schumann concerto, particularly in the first movement. There the contrast between the composer’s polar musical personalities – the impulsive, proclamatory "Florestan" and the gentle, contemplative "Eusebius" – can pose interpretive problems. Walton, by maintaining the established pulse in the lyrical passages, and projecting them in plaintive rather than conventionally melting tones, produces a reading that is unusually cogent as well as expressive. The Langsam is nicely hushed, though the cello is balanced a shade too far forward for best effect. Walton allows himself more pronounced gearshifts between themes in the vigorous, airborne finale. His attacks on exposed high notes are fearless, and mostly spot-on.

The conducting is a pleasant surprise. This score’s atypically clean scoring, and its firm "Classical" line and contours, all play to Vladimir Ashkenazy’s podium strengths. Rhythmically alert playing produces a trim, chamber-music clarity even in tutti, while the orchestral sonorities are full-bodied and colourful.

Silent Woods starts out as if it will be the performance of a lifetime. Walton doesn’t fall into the trap of excessive breadth, setting a flowing enough tempo to project a long line; the clarinet gently nudges its complementary phrases with a similarly sure sense of direction. Here Ashkenazy’s technical shortcomings begin to intrude: he can’t control the orchestral textures as they expand. The thickening sonorities impede the forward motion to the point that the piece runs out of gas some minutes before it’s actually over.

In Dvo?ák’s concerto, similarly, the more lightly scored passages give Ashkenazy no trouble, but when the textures grow fuller and more involved, he lacks the stick technique, or the aural know-how, to keep them sorted out. The orchestral playing in the first movement reflects a pervasive mild insecurity, which seems to get to Walton, whose intonation in the passagework isn’t always dead-center. It wasn’t in the finale of the Schumann, either, but the performance worked better, so that counted for less. The opening paragraph of the slow movement is gorgeous – the woodwind-and-horn chorale unfolds sensitively, and Walton does conjure up some melting tones in response; but after the heavy, Teutonic climaxes at 2:52 and 4:21, the movement gradually unravels. The Finale’s homophonic tuttis are impressive, if not quite compact, but the motivic curlicues sound anxious and ill-at-ease, the driving passages nervous rather than urgent.

Definitely worth getting but only for the Schumann. Here downloaders rather than disc collectors may have an advantage. Meanwhile, for the Dvo?ák concerto, it’s worth hunting down the classic accounts of Fournier (DG) and Gendron (Philips). Silent Woods continues to be elusive: Ofra Harnoy’s RCA account – unfortunately coupled with an inadequate account of the concerto – is one of the best.

Stephen Francis Vasta, Musicweb International

June 2013

Jamie Walton’s latest anthology for Signum once again shows him to be a impressive performer in terms of technical acumen, stylish refinement and burnished tone. The Philharmonia, too, respond with beguiling poise (flutes, clarinets and horns in particular cover themselves in glory), and Ashkenazy’s is an avuncular presence on the podium.

That said, I can’t help thinking that Dvorak’s masterly Concerto cries out for a firmer hand on the structural tiller than it receives here. For all the undoubted incidental felicities, I do persist in finding the slow movement a tad too leisurely (it pays to heed to the composer’s specific marking of Adagio ma non troppo). Neither is the finale as convincingly integrated or as profoundly moving as it should be: those unutterably poignant pages which precede the blazing culmination slacken to such a perilous degree that the crucial tingles fail to materialise – not a criticism that can be levelled at a clutch of rival versions featuring Casals, Rostropovich (with Talich and Boult), Fournier (Kubelík, in 1948 and 1954), Navarra (Stupka), Starker (Dorati), Angelica May and Wispelwey (lvan Fischer). On the other hand, this team’s Silent Woods is an understated delight, while Walton’s consistently eloquent, tender and above all songful traversal of the Schumann Concerto winningly combines strength of personality, expressive reach and big-hearted sincerity.

Signum’s April 2011 sessions took place in two venues (Walthamstow Assembly Hall and Croydon’s Fairfield Halls), but the resulting sound is evenly matched and expertly balanced. 

Gramophone, Andrew Achenbach

April 2013

The three works on this CD are sequenced in chronological order of composition, which means that Schumann’s Concerto opens the disc, carrying with it the implication that it is a more significant work than received opinion would have us believe. That is as it should be, for even today Schumann’s Cello Concerto rarely receives the attention, distinction and recognition it deserves. It is an astoundingly original composition on various levels – Schumann himself studied the cello as a young man and knew the instrument’s unique qualities, so he was able to bring to his Concerto an appreciation of what the cello was capable that not every composer shared. In addition, he was an experienced conductor, and knew the true nature of orchestral balance vis-a-vis soloists; his orchestration was also forward-looking and original to the extent that it was often regarded as being amateurish (which it is not – there is so much-ado-about-nothing in this regard even today). In original compositional terms, his structural mastery was unique, with the seamless running together of movements achieved with a creatively subtle sleight of hand that so-called ‘analysts’ invariably overlook. 

The essence of a successful realization of Schumann’s orchestral works (which remain less than fully appreciated, 150 years and more after his death) lies in the choice of underlying tempo, and in this new recording Jamie Walton and Vladimir Ashkenazy are as one. Their tempos are completely convincing and the work unfolds with a seamless flow of creativity that envelops the attentive listener. Walton himself demonstrably adores this work – that very difficult early phrase, which ends with an upward-bow D (it cannot be played downwards), is excellently achieved time and again and its significance becomes more apparent as the performance expands.

Ashkenazy is an excellent partner in Schumann’s Concerto and especially in the Dvorak Concerto, which receives an equally fine performance. 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, and although I occasionally might have wished for a greater attention to detail with regard to dynamics on the part of the orchestra in the first movement, the result is a truly symphonic utterance, the tempos perfectly judged and everything placed at the service of the composer; here is music-making of rare quality.

The little Silent Woods is no makeweight: it, too, receives a one-off performance that presents this compositional gem surely as the composer intended. The Philharmonia Orchestra plays splendidly (first horn especially) and the recorded balance is excellent.

International Record Review, Robert Matthew-Walker

March 2013

First on the Somm label and for several years now on Signum, Jamie Walton has been producing indispensable discs ranging through the familiar and not so familiar cello repertoire. He has explored with perceptive, persuasive interpretative sensibility such diverse realms as the two concertos by Saint-Saëns, the two by Shostakovich and the concerto by his half-namesake William Walton, together with chamber music by Prokofiev, Chopin, Rachmaninov and Grieg. Conviction drew him to the Cello Sonata (SIGCD274) and Cello Symphony (SIGCD137) by Benjamin Britten long before they became more of a centenary obligation this year.

At the centre of this new CD is an exquisite little extra in the shape of Dvor?ák?s Silent Woods, the composer?s own arrangement of one of his piano duet pieces that he made for the cellist Hanus? Wihan, whose playing was in Dvor?ák?s mind when he wrote the Cello Concerto in the 1890s. Walton?s interpretation of Silent Woods is sublime, its songful rapture sustained in a seamless stream of subtly inflected melody, with a gentle uplift to the spirits in the central, more animated section. The two concertos on either side of this lovely miniature, ably supported by the Philharmonia, confirm Walton as an artist with secure intuition in terms of style and with a manner of performing that speaks with natural fluency, eloquence and strength of purpose.

The contrasting elements of fragility and resolve in the Schumann concerto are held in fine balance, and in the Dvorák there is the sense that Walton, while consistently true to the composer?s own voice, has a fresh, personal and thoroughly captivating way of expressing it.

The Telegraph, Geoffrey Norris

March 2013

Despite a great line of cello virtuosi in the 18th century, the cello as a concerto instrument wasn’t terribly popular when it came to the late 18th and 19th centuries. Whereas nowadays, with our view from the Elgar Cello Concerto, we see the instrument as an arch-romantic one, to 19th century composers there was the issue of balance and projection, with worries over the instrument’s carrying power in the lower register when playing with an orchestra. Mozart wrote nothing of interest for the solo cello, Beethoven wrote sonatas but only included the instrument in his triple concerto. It was Schumann who broke the mould with his cello concerto, though he was preceded by the cello virtuoso Bernhard Romberg (1767 – 1841) whose works are not so well known nowadays but were studied by Brahms. And of course, Brahms included the instrument in his double concerto. Tchaikovsky wrote theRocco Variations for the instrument and, of course Dvorak wrote his Cello Concerto. The Schumann and Dvorak have been recorded by the young cellist Jamie Walton with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Walton was one of William Pleeth’s last students at the Royal Northern College of Music where Walton won the Pierre Fournier Prize. He is the founder and artistic director of the North Moors Chamber Music Festival which Walton set up in 2009.

Schumann’s Cello Concerto dates from 1850 and came after the success of his first work for cello and piano. Initially Schumann called the concerto Konzertstuck, perhaps because of its modest scale and the way the three movements run together. Though Schumann had informal run throughs of the work in 1851 and 1852, with two different cellists, no public performance came about. But he did do lots of revision to the work, especially in the area of balance between the soloists and orchestra. The revised version was published in 1854 under the title of Concerto for cello with orchestra accompaniment. By this time Schumann was in the sanatorium and he died two years later. The works first public performance was in 1860 in Leipzig and the work only achieve a regular place on the concert platform in the 20th century thanks to Casals.

Walton’s performance is lyrically expressive with an elegant refined tone and a lovely singing line. He plays with a warm tone, not too much vibrato, so that the sound is quite slim and clean but very fine. Speeds in the the opening movement are very relaxed  with lovely shape to the melodic line. The second movement has a nice feel for rubato and singing of the line, though at times I would have liked the pulse to feel a bit more forward moving; Walton’s performance is very meditative and inward. The third movement is nicely lively with some lovely showy cello work from Walton. The orchestra under Ashkenazy is wonderfully discreet in all three movements, elegant and shapely but never overwhelming. All in all a wonderfully elegant, finely crafted performance which sings.

Regarding timings, Walton and Ashkenazy take a minute less than Pierre Fournier on his recording with Charles Munch, though Rostropovich is overall rather faster than Walton and Ashkenazy, with Tortelier’s running time on a par with that of Fournier.

We are in somewhat of a different world when we come to Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor. This was the last of Dvorak’s four concertos, and dates from 1894-5. His first attempt in the concerto form was an unorchestrated cello concerto from 1865, the piano concerto followed in 1876 with the violin concerto in 1880, each one developing somewhat on the next. So that the cello concerto sprang fully formed, and was immediately taken up. It was written whilst Dvorak was in the USA and it was intended for the cellist of the Czech string quartet. But when Dvorak returned to Bohemia he revised the work, adding the extended coda partly in response to the fact that his sister-in-law was extremely ill and he had once been in love with her.

The problems with balance between cello and orchestra seem to have stimulated Dvorak. Always a fine orchestrator, he found useful and innovative solutions and was probably influenced by the way Victor Herbert in his cello concerto used the cellos high register and supported it with trombones. Herbert’s concerto, a single movement work, was performed in the same concert as Dvorak’s New World Symphony in New York which the composer attended.

The Dvorak concerto opens in fine style with a wonderfully grand, and richly textured tutti. Ashkenazy is not bombastic here and his attention to detail ensures that we are listening to Dvorak and not simply ersatz-Brahms as can sometimes happen with performances of Dvorak’s concertos. Walton brings all the virtues state above to this concerto, with a great feel for drama. The way Dvorak places much of the cello part in the upper register fits very well with Walton’s performing style, giving us some lovely elegant singing lines, flexible rubato and a cherishing of Dvorak’s lovely melodies. Technically he is extremely adept and the busier passages scurry by beautifully. Even in the bigger, more strenuous passages he retains a feel for style.

The slow movement is slow, with Ashkenazy lingering over the phrasing and Walton following suit, allowing the line to sing and taking full advantage of the possibilities of rubato. It almost gets self indulgent, but the refinement of the two artists ensures that it does not. It was in this movement that I felt that Czech-ness of Dvorak’s writing was in greatest danger of disappearing as this feel comes from the rhythmic vitality of the playing. But then, in the bigger dramatic moments everything comes back together.

The concluding movement is surprisingly unshowy, with a beautiful and thoughtful coda. I would have liked a little more rhythmic crispness and swing from the orchestra, giving us more of a Czech feel. Walton shows himself not afraid to fine his tone down in places, and Ashkenazy is a wonderfully sympathetic accompanist.

Walton and Ashkenazy are considerably slower than Fournier and Hans Rosbaud, adding over three minutes to the overall timing. Tortelier takes about same overall running time as Walton, but Tortelier’s first movement is more expansive with the later ones being slightly swifter

Between the two concertos, Walton adds a lovely gem, Dvorak’s Silent Woods, an orchestral version of a movement from the piano duet suit Bohemia’s Woods. A lovely song-like movement, it enables Walton to sing a melody in fine style.

The Philarmonia Orchestra shows itself to be a fine accompany instrument in all three works. Inevitably, there are few moments when the orchestra can really be given its head. Instead the players craft a finely textured and highly sympathetic accompaniment with some lovely solo moments.

Inevitably, everyone will have their favourite performance of these two concertos, book-ending the 19th century cello concerto tradition. But Walton’s elegant, refined tone and singing style will win him many converts and this is a recording which I will be playing again.

Planet Hugill, Robert Hugill

February 2013

Cellist Jamie Walton, a founder of the North York Moors festival, is joined by the Philharmonia Orchestra for recordings of Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor and Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor. Warm and incisive readings.

Northern Echo, Gavin Engelbrecht

  1. Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129: I. Nicht zu schnell – Robert Schumann – 11.24
  2. Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129: II. Langsam – Robert Schumann – 4.28
  3. Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129: III. Sehr lebhaft – Robert Schumann – 7.40
  4. Silent Woods, Op. 68 No. 5 – Antonin Dvorak – 5.53
  5. Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104: I. Allegro – Antonin Dvorak – 14.27
  6. Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104: II. Adagio ma non troppo – Antonin Dvorak – 11.53
  7. Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104: III. Finale: Allegro moderato – Antonin Dvorak – 12.53