The Strad Issue: January 2013
Description: A worthy centenary tribute from a fine young cellist
Musicians: Philip Higham (cello)
Composer: Britten

Philip Higham already proved his affinity for Britten’s music when he committed the composer’s Cello Sonata to disc (reviewed November 2012), so this recording of the suites in the composer’s centenary year is especially welcome. The First Suite’s opening Canto is unsettling and mysterious, and the Lamento flows rather than wallows, with a clear, pure sound. The Serenata’s dolce marking is taken literally, with a truly sweet sound in the high ranges, while the Bordone’s tranquillo feels like an insect’s faint stirrings from hibernation.

Listening to Higham playing these suites is like looking through a clear pane of glass at the music. There is no posturing or indulgent revelling in the resonance of his c.1730 Tecchler cello. In Suite no.2’s Fuga, his playing emanates intense concentration as each note is placed in what feels like exactly the right place, keeping the threads of musical meaning unbroken. The high, spread pizzicatos in the Andante lento ring out impressively and Higham’s double-stopping is eloquent, with each melodic line audible, thanks to the clarity and immediacy of the recording.

The Third Suite’s Kontakion is proclaimed as if by a human voice, restrained yet full of emotion, while the Fantastico and Moto perpetuo seem almost inhumanly detached. Only the ending disappoints slightly, as it lacks sufficient cumulative weight.