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Benjamin Britten - Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, I (1/2)

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Published on Nov 8, 2010

Cello Symphony, for cello & orchestra, Op. 68 (1963)

I. Allegro maestoso
II. Presto inquieto
III. Adagio
IV. Passacaglia: Andante allegro

Tim Hugh, cello
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Takuo Yuasa

Benjamin Britten wrote his Symphony for cello and orchestra, Op. 68, in 1963 for Mstislav Rostropovich. Having already composed a sonata for this extraordinary cellist and musician, he would eventually also dedicate to him the three solo suites and the Tema "Sacher."

Britten's choice to call a work for solo cello and orchestra a symphony, while unusual, seems logical on reflection: though it is as demanding as that for any concerto, the solo part is woven into the texture of the orchestra, trading off melodic motives and subsidiary roles with other instruments. Also, the piece comprises four movements, more typical of the symphonic genre than that of the concerto. The cello begins the first movement, Allegro Maestoso, right away with no orchestral introduction, another characteristic that helps to break the idea of the piece as a concerto. The first passage is built on dissonant chords in the cello part, which is agitated from the start. The cello part gains in intensity, hits a period of relief, and then begins rebuilding. In the more intense moments it is as if the orchestra is prodding the cellist along. The cello part shifts in terms of melodic importance. Usually it appears as the solo melody, but sometimes it creates background texture while another instrument has the melody. There is a middle section that is expressive and lyrical, but then the intensity reappears and builds for some time before finally dying away at the end of the movement.

The second movement, marked Presto Inquieto, is restless in character, full of energetic undercurrents, even in the more lyrical sections. The cello and orchestra trade off the underlying energy as the melody swirls over the top of everything. Soft in overall dynamic range, this movement has an eerie feel to it.

The following Adagio begins with a timpani roll and a beautiful, rich solo cello melody. The strings accompany in a similar manner, but the agitated timpani sharply contrast the melodic feel. The timpani returns throughout, like a heartbeat pounding to interrupt the otherwise tranquil mood. The adagio leads into the cello cadenza, explosive, dissonant, and melodically intense. It leads directly into the fourth movement, a Passacaglia. The cello part continues the cadenza melody that becomes the ground bass part as the trumpets enter with a new melodic motif. These two tunes, intertwined, set the stage for six variations and a coda to follow. Some of the variations feature the cello more than others, but the orchestra plays a prominent role in most parts. The overall texture grows thick at times, but in the end the cello cuts through it all to create an exciting finale. [Allmusic.com]

  • Category

  • Song

    • I. Allegro maestoso
  • Artist

    • Tim Hugh
  • Album

    • BRITTEN: Violin Concerto / Cello Symphony
  • Licensed to YouTube by

    • AdShare MG for a Third Party (on behalf of Naxos_thenax)

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