Four Sea Interludes (Benjamin Britten)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Li-Wei Qin (cello)/ Zhang Yi (conductor)
ABC Classics 481 1243
reviewed by Neville Cohn
Li-Wei Qin’s account of Elgar’s Cello Concerto is breathtakingly fine. I cannot too highly praise his all-encompassing vision of this great work. I rather imagine that had Elgar himself been able to listen to this performance, he’d surely have been moved by its profound insights. Certainly, both soloist and the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Zhang Yi earn lavish, thoroughly deserved, laurels. And the sound engineers, too, come up trumps. It is a triumph all-round.
It is Li-Wei Qin’s ability to reveal, in the most subtle way, the concerto’s evolving moods that brings the stamp of distinction to this reading.
For a performance of such consistent excellence, there is little the critic has to do other than to salute musicality of very high order. It is rather like being taken across familiar, much loved terrain by a master guide able to reveal a musical landscape of which one had not been earlier aware. It is a fascinating, deeply probing reading. I hope this CD reaches many listeners.
Whether listening to the gently rocking motif of the opening movement, a profound intensity of feeling in the slow movement or, with first rate support from the LPO, a finale that thrills the ear, it’s clear that orchestra, cellist and conductor are in top form.
Li-Wei Qin was born in Shanghai and came to Australia as a teenager. After winning the ABC Young Performer of the Year Competition, he went on to advanced studies with Ralph Kirshbaum at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music. In 2008, he was soloist with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at the Beijing Olympics. He plays a superb 1780 Guadagnini cello. On the evidence of this recording, he is entirely worthy of it.
In William Walton’s Cello Concerto, Li-Wei produces a stream of seductively beautiful, warmly mellow sound. It’s magical music making. Listening to this performance calls to mind Mrs Gaskell’s famous comment that she wished Anthony Trollope’s Framley Parsonage would go on forever. The other-worldly beauty of the playing cannot be too highly praised. Whether introspective or boldly assertive, the concerto sounds as if it might have been purpose-written for the soloist.
In Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from his opera Peter Grimes, the then-young Britten revealed to an astonished world just how inventive a young composer touched by God can be.
Each of the Interludes is a mini-masterpiece of striking originality, sound pictures that draw the listener into the composer’s idiosyncratic sound and mood world. And Zhang Yi and the LPO sound in their element as they breathe life and meaning into the score.
In Dawn, the bleakly austere, attention-gripping measures with their simulated bird calls are beautifully handled. And in Sunday Morning, in-form horns provide a sonic background for darting string motifs. Splendid brass responses and fine flute playing give nocturnal point and meaning to Moonlight. And the LPO does wonders in suggesting a dark, dramatically turbulent Storm.