Suites for unaccompanied cello – No.1, Op.72; No.2, Op.80; No.3, Op.87
Daniel Müller-Schott (cello)
Recorded 26 July 2009 and 28-30 July 2010 in Musikstudios, Munich
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: August 2011
CD No: ORFEO C 835111 A
Duration: 71 minutes
As Daniel Müller-Schott’s perceptive booklet note points out, Britten’s three Suites for solo cello are a testament to the extraordinary creative relationship and deep personal friendship that he composer enjoyed with Mstislav Rostropovich in the 1960s. That Müller-Schott studied these pieces with the great Russian cellist lends this recording a stamp of authenticity. Yet the sibling interpreter is presented too in-your-face, this intimate music heard close-up and somewhat aggressively, with no room for him, or us, to hide. In the Third Suite this can be quite disconcerting. This particular opus meant so much to Rostropovich that he found it close to impossible to play it after the composer’s death.
So many different sides to Britten’s creativity reveal themselves in this music – intense lamentation, playful counterpoint, grandiose multiple-stopping, unexpected harmonic implications and often-glorious melodic writing being just some of the workings of these Suites, which take their lead from J. S. Bach’s examples and advance the cello’s development firmly into the 20th-century. One significant ingredient to a successful interpretation of Britten’s Suites is to bring out their contrapuntal qualities, which gives the allusion of the cello sounding like two separate instruments, engaged in melody and accompaniment. Müller-Schott is fully aware of this, and in the ‘Fugue’ of the Second Suite he manages the introduction of each part brilliantly, from furtive beginnings to an emphatic climax.
His approach is more legato than some other interpreters, bringing out the vocal quality of Britten’s writing from the very start of the First Suite. The composer takes the cello through a number of different dance-forms in this work, again in the manner of the Bach, leading to the crowning glory that is the finale, the drone in the penultimate movement, a ‘Bordone’, very effective in heralding this melodic outpouring. The Second Suite is more lopsided in structure, its five movements building towards the final ‘Ciaccona’ despite the powerful impact of the second-movement ‘Fugue’. Müller-Schott’s technical and musical mastery is evident in both of these movements. The ten-movement Third Suite is full of contrasts, Britten’s demands finely attuned to the cello. The unison notes of the opening ‘Lento’ resound strongly, while the abrupt mood-swings of the ‘Marcia’ contrast big, resonant bow strokes with diminutive answering phrases to lend the music an uneasy air. The closing pair of movements – ‘Lento solenne’ (a passacaglia) and the ‘Molto semplice’ finale – bed to great import, the former building-up a head of steam, peaking with its soaring high note, while the latter rises to expansive chords, Müller-Schott capturing well the lost-in-thought of the final response.
If the recorded sound places the cello too closely and with untoward vividness, the reproduction is also very clean, bringing out Müller-Schott’s praiseworthy delivery, not least meditative rejoinders that can be thrown away by some players. Daniel Müller-Schott has this music under his skin. Aided by Rostropovich’s input, Britten’s three Suites are given insightful interpretations of conviction and performances of outstanding technique.