Cello Sonatas by Shostakovich, Britten and Prokofiev


Jamie Walton and Daniel Grimwood continue their performance partnership with this recording of sonatas for cello and piano by Shostakovich, Britten and Prokofiev. Both Walton and Grimwood are accomplished performers who regularly work together both on disc and in concert, as well as being highly active in the wider musical world. A recent highlight for Walton is his North York Moors Chamber Music Festival (where both he and Grimwood performed), which was nominated for a Royal Philharmonic society award in 2011.

Praise for their last disc (SIGCD252) of Chopin and Saint-Saëns:
"Jamie Walton’s mature cello timbre and perceptiveness in matters of interpretation are winningly applied to this coupling of two 19th-century sonatas … Finely honed stylistic judgment here goes hand in hand with re-creative panache." 
The Daily Telegraph – 5 Star Review 
"There’s a combination of youthful energy and wellseasoned musicality that Jamie Walton and Daniel Grimwood thrive on here and it’s a real partnership … Fine playing" 
BBC Radio 3 – CD Review

What people are saying

"This is another successful disc for a partnership that clearly enjoys playing and recording together. Their forthright style in each of these three pieces pays dividends"

Classical Source

"The 1934 D minor Shostakovich sonata is among the most affecting performances I have heard since Rostropovich died …Daniel Grimwood is the intuitive accompanist.”

Norman Lebrecht, La Scena Musicale 


"Individual episodes in the Britten are sharply focused in character but integrated into a broad, organic structure. The solemnity and dark hues at the start of the Prokofiev yield to his distinctive melody and harmony, conveyed here mellifluously and with telling inflections and, in the finale, with a blend of delicacy and robust rhythmicality. This is highly cultured playing, rich in enjoyment."

The Daily Telegraph

Jamie Walton cello
Daniel Grimwood piano

Release date:14th Nov 2011
Order code:SIGCD274
Barcode: 635212027424

July 2012

Jamie Walton, yet another relatively young and superb cellist, joins the apparently endless assemblage of Great Young Cellists of Our Time. Having already recorded the cello sonatas of Rachmaninoff, Grieg, Chopin, and Saint-Saëns for Signum, he turns his attention here to similar works by Shostakovich, Britten, and Prokofiev. The two Russians, of course, were producing their music with the fear of Stalin’s disapproval hanging over them. Nonetheless, Shostakovich actually finished writing and performing his cello sonata some years before the Stalinist purges actually began. It is a surprisingly light, sunny work by this normally ironic and dour composer, particularly the lovely Largo and exciting Allegro finale. Walton plays it with exquisite taste, a full, rich tone, and outstanding flair, but in some places Daniel Grimwood lacks spirit in his piano role.

The casual listener may be forgiven for mistaking the Britten sonata for Prokofiev or vice-versa. The Britten sonata, composed in 1960 and premiered in 1961 by Rostropovich with the composer at the piano, is by far the spikier, more modern-sounding work. Prokofiev, in trembling fear of retribution from the Soviets, was forced to write his op. 119 Cello Sonata in a more accessible, tonal, even bucolic musical mood. It is by no means a poor piece—on the contrary, it is one of the composer’s most lyrical works, superbly written—and here Walton gives the warmest, richest performance on this disc. The liner notes indicate that Prokofiev and Rostropovich had become fast friends in the composer’s later years, thus it is not surprising that this sonata exploits the rich lower register of the instrument, which was always one of Rostropovich’s great strengths.

There are many recordings of each of these three sonatas, including highly recommended versions of the Shostakovich by Natalia Khoma (Centaur 3100) and Viktor Uzur (Blue Griffin 131) and what may be the definitive version of the Britten sonata by Rostropovich and Britten (Decca 421859), but if you have a place on your shelf and in your heart for another, I think you’ll be delightfully surprised by the excellence of Walton in these works. 

Fanfare Magazine, Lynn René Bayley

Recording of the Month – July 2012
Even if Shostakovich the symphonist had barely begun to emerge, he nonetheless had several masterworks to his credit in 1934 when he composed his Cello Sonata. One of these was the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, the work that provoked Stalin’s disapproval, propelling the composer into years of artistic limbo. The sonata is in four movements, and although the overall tone is more lyrical and genial than we associate with this composer, the minor key close of the first movement is not the only passage to feature the typical Shostakovich combination of sardonic humour and near-despair. The second movement is a ferocious scherzo – Jamie Walton tears into this in impressive fashion – but the passionate, deeply felt slow movement is the heart of the work. There are many rival versions of this sonata. I particularly admire the robust and dramatic reading from Han-Na Chang and Antonio Pappano, a not particularly generous coupling on EMI of her outstanding performance of the First Cello Concerto. The slow movement of the present performance seems underplayed when compared to Chang, and the reading as a whole is richer and more mellow. I wasn’t totally convinced at first, but on subsequent hearings I’ve happily come round to Walton’s and Grimwood’s view of the work. 
Prokofiev composed his Cello Sonata for Mstislav Rostropovich, who gave the first performance in 1950, with Richter, no less, at the piano. The pianist tells the story of playing it to two different judging panels, apparently for authorisation to give the work in public. I wonder if present-day artists in the free world can really imagine what it is like to work under such conditions. There was perhaps relatively little official opposition to this sonata, as it is a predominantly lyrical work, with none of the harmonic daring associated with the younger composer. The first impression the work gives is a carefree one, but subsequent listening reveals much more. The work is beautifully written for the two instruments; the composer clearly wanted to exploit the cellist’s sound in the low register. The first movement is a fine example of Prokofiev’s gift for melody, with an amusing passage where the two instruments imitate each other, and a poignant, chiming close. Even the wittily ironic second movement scherzo has a more lyrical interlude and the energetic finale has a surprisingly dramatic finish. 
Britten was introduced to Rostropovich by Shostakovich at the first British performance of the latter’s First Cello Concerto, and their friendship endured until the composer’s death in 1976. The Cello Sonata was the first of five works that Britten composed for Rostropovich. The most concentrated of the three works on this disc, its five movements are over and done with in less than twenty minutes. A motif of only two notes makes up most of the thematic material of the first movement. Wistful in mood for much of its length, and often touchingly lyrical, it also features passages more powerful and overtly demonstrative than is usual from this composer. The second movement is a nocturnal scherzo whose pizzicato writing could almost have come from Bartók’s pen. An expressive, melancholy slow movement follows, then a weird march, and the work ends with a fearsome moto perpetuo. The cellist’s wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, apparently found the work to be a portrait of her husband’s wildly changing moods. This may be so, but there is a certain greyness about the writing too, and one is left at the end of the work not quite sure what the composer was aiming at. 
Cellists hoping for a place on the world stage all have the same cross to bear, and that is the inevitable comparison with Rostropovich. If they are wise, they learn from him whilst forging their own sound and personality. The only time I ever saw him in concert he played with a barely controlled frenzy that bordered on the demented. Jamie Walton’s playing is several degrees cooler than this, and this shows in the performance of the Britten. Yet whilst Rostropovich’s performance, with Britten at the piano, is indispensable in any Britten collection, this performance is just as fine in its own way. Walton’s sound is gorgeous, as is that of Daniel Grimwood, made evident in the rich and immediate Signum recording. Both players are technically flawless, play with the utmost musical intelligence and sensitivity, and are totally at one in all three works. 
The magnificent Dutch cellist Peter Wispelwey has exactly this programme on a well-received Channel Classics CD. I have not heard it, but it is hard to imagine how it can surpass this outstanding disc. 

Musicweb International, William Hedley

Gramophone, May 2012

The Walton-Grimwood duo in Britten-Rostropovich territory

Cellist Jamie Walton and pianist Daniel Grimwood make an outstanding duo, as two earlier CDs for Signum have already demonstrated. Where those first two explored , 19th-century Romantic cello sonatas, this time the theme is largely the influence of the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.

When Benjamin Britten heard Rostropovich give the British premiere of Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto in 1960 he asked the composer to introduce him to the cellist, thus beginning a key friendship. The first result was this Cello Sonata, given by Rostropovich and Britten at Aldeburgh in June 1961 in an impromptu recital which also involved Peter Pears. Similarly, it was when Prokofiev first heard Rostropovich play Shostakovich’s earlier Cello Sonata that he too responded by writing his Cello Sonata for him.

The Shostakovich Sonata of 1934 comes first on the disc. Though the first and longest movement of the four tends to be wayward, hardly identifiable as the work of Shostakovich, the other three movements are much more characteristic. Maybe it is that movement which has generally prevented the piece from being more popular than it is. But the wildly dancing Scherzo, the hauntingly melancholic slow movement (bearing the main emotional weight) and the jaunty finale are a delight – particularly in a performance as lively as this in the allegros and deeply intense in the slow movement. The Britten comes next and Walton and Grimwood consistently bring out the echoes of Soviet music that Britten no doubt intended as a tribute to his dedicatee. Walton sustains the distinctively fragmentary quality of the first movement perfectly, leading on to the striking pizzicato writing in the following Scherzo. Here too it is the ‘Elegie’ slow movement that bears the most emotional weight, full of dark intensity, while the jaunty march then leads into a brief Moto perpetuo fifth movement as tailpiece, bringing an emphatic close.

The Prokofiev, unlike the other two sonatas, is in three movements, each getting faster than the last. The Andante grave first movement offers a sequence of strongly contrasted sections, while the second is a march marked Moderato with a lyrical central section. The finale is a playful rondo with a ‘travelling’ theme recurring. When Prokofiev wrote the piece it was at the height of the clampdown on composers supervised by the much-feared Zhdanov, and Prokofiev, distinguished as he was, had to endure an adjudication by the guild of composers. They happily approved the work, in which the composer had aimed for a new simplicity.

The natural warmth of Walton’s playing, matching that of Rostropovich himself, is finely enhanced by the crispness and fresh focus of Grim wood’s accompaniments. Clear, well balanced recording helps to make this a first rate issue, with illuminating notes filling in the background behind each work.

Edward Greenfield

International Record Review, April 2012

Cellists and pianists don’t often ‘marry’, musically speaking, but the ongoing partnership of Jamie Walton and Daniel Grimwood now extends to three CDs on Signum Classics and several more on Somm. Both are fairly young musicians and both have prominent careers away from each other. Grimwood, for example , is an advocate of performances on early pianos, and won kudos for his recent recording of Liszt ‘ s Anmies de pelerinage. Walton has recorded concertos by Saint-Saens, Shostakovich, (William) Walton and others for several labels. The nice thing – one of several nice things , actually ? about the performances on the present CD is that one senses that the performers truly are in dialogue with each other . (Another nice thing is the plush recording quality – not as clear as on other discs, perhaps, but the auditory equivalent of caramel nevertheless!) Together, they evidently have discussed their repertory with great thoroughness. One might quip that this is ‘ unison playing ‘ taken to new heights!

The one name that must immediately come to mind, in dealing with a programme such as this one , is that of Mstislav Rostropovich. The booklet notes acknowledge this and remind us that, although Rostropovich became associated with Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata, it was composed for Viktor Kubatsky, another cellist . (The annotator drily writes, ‘ the fact that the Shostakovich sonata was not written for [Rostropovich] can be put down to the cellist being a boy of seven at the time of composition ‘.) This sonata was composed in 1934, just before the composer started to run foul of the Soviet government. lt is not as flippant or experimental as some of Shostakovich’s music could be during this period . In fact, the sonata opens with an almost Romantic warmth, and when humour appears, it can be odd , but it is not really grotesque. Shostakovich recorded it with cellist Daniel Shafran, a personality- filled reading not to be missed, but of course not a patch on the present one in terms of recording quality. Walton’s tone is much more baritone-like than Shafran’s, and he and Grimwood adopt a smoother approach to the score without turning it into Rachmaninov, for example. In the slow movement, they are almost two minutes faster than Shafran and Shostakovich. A recent alternative, Alexander Chaushian and Yevgeny Sudbin, is more emotive, even excitable, and Chausian ‘sbuzzy sound is very different from Walton’s smoothness.

Britten composed his Cello Sonata soon after meeting Rostropovich in 1960 and they recorded it not long after . (The three suites and the Cello Symphony came later.) This sonata seems to express Britten’s delight not only over Rostropovich’ s artistry but also over his friendship with the cellist, a friendship whose development was not impeded by the language barrier . (Signum ‘s annotator alludes to the fractured ‘Aldeburgh Deutsch’ they spoke witlh each other.) One can hardly put aside the ‘creators’ recording’ listed above among the comparison discs; Rostropovich and Britton are, cliched as it is to say so, in a class of their own here. Rostropovich ‘s playing often sounds like human speech. Again , Walton and Grimwood arc far more introspective, and if Walton doesn’ t play with the character of Rostropovich, the beauty of his sound offers its own rewards. If you love this work, Walton and Grimwood are an actual alternative, not just an imitation of the original performers.

Prokofiev ‘s sonata is a late work, dating from 1949. It is bruised by the composer ‘s ill -treatment at the hands of his homeland, although one also hears the composer stoically trying to shrug it all off. (I can ‘t quite agree with the annotator ‘s comment that ‘ the whole effect is satisfying and positive, hardly bereft of struggle, but up-beat rather than downcast ‘.) Well , in any event, one couldn ‘t mistake this for the work of any other composer . Walton’s sound is even fatter than Yo-Yo Ma’ s on Sony, and he and Grimwood trot through the first movement more than two minutes faster than Ma and Emanuel Ax . lt strikes me, on the basis of this recording, that Walton and Grimwood are the performers to go to if you want to hear really dark and gorgeous sounds. Hearing them is a little like (speaking from experience!) hearing Rcnata Tebaldi, after
having grown up on a steady diet of Maria Callas.

Raymond S. Tuttle

BBC Music Magazine, April 2012, Performance ***, Recording ****

The powerful presence of Rostropovich haunts these three sonatas, and his recordings are indelible, particularly the Britten (Decca), and Shostakovich (BBC Legends) with their respective composers at the piano.

Cellist Jamie Walton is at ease with the young Shostakovich’s queasy nee-Romanticism, giving a truly vocal feel to the Allegro, and rearing into a fiery Scherzo. He has a tendency to vibrate fast on the second half of notes in lyrical passages, which becomes mannered. There’s also a lack of edge ro this performance, which makes the Adagio sound melodiously easygoing rather than devastating, as it is for Romopovich. A dashing Finale and Grimwood’s piquant sense of fun partly rescue the performance, but there’s something routine hovering over the whole. For a piercingly imaginative alternative, hear Pieter Wispelwey/Dejan Lazic’s reading on Channel Classics.

Gliding elegance rather than grittiness is uppermost in Britten’s Dialogo when compared with the fiercely alert performance by Rostropovich and Britten. Walton and Grimwood show a general understanding of the work’s architecture – too many phrases are glossed over, until the magical coda of the first movement. Real dialogue is achieved in a swift pizzicato Scherzo. Grim wood succeeds in finding something greater in the mournful Elegia, giving it heart, while their Moto perpetuo makes for a thrilling, dry finish.

The caustic faux-naivety of Prokofiev’s Sonata presents an interpretative challenge to most performers. Walton struggles to find the composer’s ‘proud’ sound in the lower registers of the opening. Grim wood holds back on the massive repeated chords to allow the cello to come through, bur one feels the no-holds-barred approach taken by Dejan Lazic is perhaps closer to Prokofiev’s intentions. The folksy Moderato needs more pointing up, and some more airiness in the cello’s timbre would have lifted the sunny finale. Walton makes us all too aware that this isn’t Prokofiev at his best.

Helen Wallace

The Strad

This grouping of sonatas bound together by the remarkable inspiration of Rostropovich is a well-worn combination on disc. Despite a lightly over-ambient recording, both players give an earnest and sensitive account of the Shostakovich, particularly in the lyrical and intense first movement. The contrasting burlesque of the ensuing scherzo has considerable impact, although ha flawed recording balance with the awkwardly placed piano leads to a loss in clarity, ? a flawed recording balance something that is even more noticeable in the Largo, performed here at a surprisingly brisk but convincing tempo.

Britten?s powerful Sonata receives an idiomatic and expressive rendition, although the frenzied intensity that builds up in the middle the first movement never quite ignited. Likewise, the fiery drama of the pizzicato Scherzo seems a little tame. The Elegy, however, flowers into a dark and troubled lyrical offering, and both the ensuing Marcia and Moto perpetuo are compellingly dark, menacing and turbulent.

My reservations over the recording surface again in the Prokofiev Sonata, though interpretatively the two artists? performance effectively depicts the almost cinematic scene changes in the first movement. Whimsical in the Moderato by with a troubled edge, the players prepare us for the underlying grey shadows of the invention that in truth never entirely smiles.

Joanne Talbot

The Daily Telegraph

Mstislav Rostropovich was a central figure in the cello music of all three composers on this disc ? Shostakovich, Britten and Prokofiev. The Britten and Prokofiev cello sonatas were both written for his electrifying artistry and big-hearted personality, and, as the CD notes point out, the only reason Shostakovich did not write his own sonata with Rostropovich in mind was that the cellist was only a child of seven when it was completed in 1934.

The sonata is given a riveting performance by Jamie Walton and Daniel Grimwood. Theirs is a true partnership, responding with like minds to the lyrical, quizzical and visceral aspects of the sonata?s trajectory.
Whether in the beautifully shaped second theme of the opening movement, the aggressive motor rhythms of the scherzo, the intense introspection of the slow movement or the weird mix of simplicity and hyperactivity in the finale, this is a performance that seems to strike right at the heart of the music.
Britten?s sonata of 1961 and Prokofiev?s of 1949 make strong contrasting companion pieces and both are played here with palpable stylistic understanding. Walton?s palette of sound on his 1712 Guarneri cello is applied with aptness and imagination, Grimwood matching and complementing him in expressive nuance, emotional poise and potent energy.
Individual episodes in the Britten are sharply focused in character but integrated into a broad, organic structure. The solemnity and dark hues at the start of the Prokofiev yield to his distinctive melody and harmony, conveyed here mellifluously and with telling inflections and, in the finale, with a blend of delicacy and robust rhythmicality. This is highly cultured playing, rich in enjoyment.

Geoffrey Norris

Classical Source

The established partnership of Jamie Walton and Daniel Grimwood turn their attention to three cello sonatas whose composers link inexorably to Mstislav Rostropovich. All three wrote for cello ? with piano, and with orchestra ? as a direct result of their involvement and friendship with the great cellist. Of the works here only the Shostakovich (1934) does not bear his dedication, largely because the cellist would have been seven at the time!

That is the first work on this attractive release, finding Walton and Grimwood (the latter sometimes backwards in balance) in largely thoughtful mood, placing particular expressive emphasis on the second theme of the first movement. Such is the rubato applied to this by Walton in particular that the music almost stops, the higher note placed very deliberately in a perfectly valid and affecting approach. Elsewhere the tone is more aggressive, with a gruff scherzo-like second movement finding a shrill timbre when Grimwood is occupying the upper register. In the finale the straitlaced march is paced just right, with a hint of bitterness when the dynamics get louder.
The Prokofiev is much less introspective by nature, and has become one of the composer?s best-loved chamber works due to its immediacy and profligacy of good tunes, not to mention the odd humorous aside or two. If Walton does not perhaps explore the chances to make merry this is still a very positive performance, the affinity between cello and piano clear in the fast passages, while Grimwood lets Walton express himself more fully in the slower, more balletic writing. The second movement is quite direct, and as it progresses to an enjoyable, throwaway end, Grimwood?s control of the upper register is excellent. The piercing upper register does get a little uncomfortable in the finale, though is not a problem when the red-blooded last page comes in to view.
The Britten is the most successful performance, getting the balance between the slightly shy, withdrawn themes and the sudden outbursts spot-on in the first movement, and then allowing time for a few furtive asides and sidelong glances in the second. Walton and Grimwood are emphatic where the music calls for it, but keep an element of mystery as Britten moves relatively quickly between moods and forms. Walton?s pizzicato and armoury of tricks are precisely as required by the composer, securing striking sound-effects that are well caught by the recording. The duo scrupulously follows the composer?s markings. This is another successful disc for a partnership that clearly enjoys playing and recording together. Their forthright style in each of these three pieces pays dividends, and when all three are listened to consecutively they serve as an appropriate reminder of Rostropovich?s incalculable influence on the cello repertoire of the 20th-century.

Ben Hogwood

La Scene Musicale

Jamie Walton is a conviction cellist, playing the music he feels is most timely rather than what the industry demands. These three works make sense together but are hardly a commercial proposition. The 1934 D minor Shostakovich sonata is among the most affecting performances I have heard since Rostropovich died. The C major sonatas by Britten and Prokofiev have lower emotive traction, but the playing compensates with delicious little insights and evocations. Daniel Grimwood is the intuitive accompanist.

Norman Lebrecht

December 2011

Jamie Walton is a conviction cellist, playing the music he feels is most timely rather than what the industry demands. These three works make sense together but are hardly a commercial proposition. The 1934 D minor Shostakovich sonata is among the most affecting performances I have heard since Rostropovich died. The C major sonatas by Britten and Prokofiev have lower emotive traction, but the playing compensates with delicious little insights and evocations. Daniel Grimwood is the intuitive accompanist.

La Scena Musical, Norman Lebrecht

  1. Cello Sonata in D minor, Op.40: i. Allegro non troppo – Dmitri Shostakovich – 12.16
  2. Cello Sonata in D minor, Op.40: ii. Allegro – Dmitri Shostakovich – 2.56
  3. Cello Sonata in D minor, Op.40: iii. Largo – Dmitri Shostakovich – 7.02
  4. Cello Sonata in D minor, Op.40: iv. Allegro – Dmitri Shostakovich – 4.15
  5. Cello Sonata in C major, Op.65: i.Dialogo – Benjamin Britten – 6.18
  6. Cello Sonata in C major, Op.65: ii. Scherzo – Pizzicato – Benjamin Britten – 2.22
  7. Cello Sonata in C major, Op.65: iii. Elegia – Benjamin Britten – 5.28
  8. Cello Sonata in C major, Op.65: iv. Marcia – Benjamin Britten – 1.56
  9. Cello Sonata in C major, Op.65: v. Moto perpetuo – Benjamin Britten – 2.35
  10. Cello Sonata in C major, Op.119: i. Andante grave – Sergei Prokofiev – 9.54
  11. Cello Sonata in C major, Op.119: ii. Moderato – Sergei Prokofiev – 4.27
  12. Cello Sonata in C major, Op.119: iii. Allegro ma non troppo – Sergei Prokofiev – 7.54
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