Julian Lloyd Webber & John Lenehan at Wigmore Hall – Ireland and Delius

Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano
Caprice and Elegy
Sonata for Cello and Piano

Julian Lloyd Webber (cello) & John Lenehan (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 24 September, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Julian Lloyd WebberThe anniversaries of two composers and the cellist connecting them were marked in this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall. The 50th-anniversary of John Ireland’s death and the 150th-anniversary of the birth of Frederick Delius are relatively well documented; though it could be argued neither has properly had the coverage in concert halls that they deserve, even this year. Binding the works of the two together is the cellist Beatrice Harrison, born 120 years ago, the dedicatee of the Delius’s Sonata and his Caprice and Elegy, and who gave the first performance of Ireland’s Sonata in 1924.

Julian Lloyd Webber is a passionate advocate of both these composers, and with regular accompanist John Lenehan has a long standing familiarity with each work, and indeed discovered Delius’s Romance in 1976. This early composition from 1896 bears some similarity to the shorter works by Fauré for cello and piano, and here was given a sunny countenance and warm tone, its main melody lightly elusive but attractive.

John Lenehan. Photograph: www.johnlenehan.co.ukThe mood was in direct contrast to the Ireland, which initially complemented the rainstorm outside, with glowering low-register cello statements and assertive interventions from Lenehan. Gradually the gloomy mood dissipated, with a whispered aside marking the intimate second theme of the first movement, its marking of ‘secreto’ perfectly observed. Lloyd Webber’s tone throughout this was probing in the mid-register, and the high notes were completely secure as the ending of each faster movement somehow negotiated its way in to G major.

Delius’s Caprice and Elegy is from 1930 and is much more concise than the Romance, the Caprice part especially effective with its tumbling five-note motif which was given by Lenehan in a beautiful pianissimo. Lloyd Webber’s cantabile line gave the melody a light touch, and the chromatic Elegy was soft-hearted but profound.

Delius’s Cello Sonata is a single movement in three sections, each with long-breathed tunes that need to be followed from the outset, lest listeners feel they are cutting-in to the middle of a conversation. The sweeps of melody and wandering harmonies went well together in this performance, though the relative lack of fast music made the dynamic observations all the more telling. The beautiful falling theme that becomes the Sonata’s calling card was affectionately played, the piece building to a triumphant conclusion.

The appropriate encores were Ireland’s arrangement of his song The Holy Boy, followed by Lloyd Webber’s transcription of the equally well-loved Sea Fever. Both were given with obvious affection, showing that Ireland’s melodic genius is ultimately to be found in shorter form, with his longer works reserved perhaps for more personal insights.

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