The Strad Issue: December 2017
Description: Music in celebration of a cello’s 300th birthday
Musicians: Guy Johnston (cello), Sheku Kanneh- Mason (cello), Magnus Johnston (violin), Tom Poster (piano), Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Carlo Rizzari
Works: GJEILO Serenity; DAVID MATTHEWS Ein Celloleben; BEETHOVEN Piano Trio no.5 in D major op.70 no.1 ‘Ghost’; MARK SIMPSON Un Regalo; BARRIÈRE Sonata for Two Cellos in G major no.4; CHARLOTTE BRAY Perseus; RESPIGHI Adagio con variazioni
Catalogue Number: KING’S COLLEGE CAMBRIDGE KGS0026
Guy Johnston’s inspiration for this disc was the 300th anniversary in 2014 of his cello, made in Rome by David Tecchler. While taking the instrument back to the Eternal City, to record the Respighi work there, he also chose pieces with links to places that have influenced his own career (see article in the May 2017 issue).
The first of the two main items is Beethoven’s ‘Ghost’ Trio, whose unison opening motif Johnston and friends launch with unusual gusto. There’s just a touch of harshness here and there in his brother Magnus’s violin playing but the energy is palpable and the blend very fine. The highlight is the slow movement that gives the work its nickname: the spectral quality becomes not an end in itself, but more an atmosphere with which a narrative unfolds; the result is wondrous and unsettling.
The other main work is Respighi’s Adagio con variazioni, which offers few technical challenges for Johnson. More showy are the three contrasting new works, by David Matthews, Mark Simpson and Charlotte Bray. There’s playing of great nuance and polish in the Sonata for Two Cellos by Jean- Baptiste Barrière (G major from Book 4), in which Johnston is partnered by Sheku Kanneh-Mason, of recent BBC Young Musician success. The disc’s spiritual-Minimalist opening choral work, with weaving cello obbligato – Serenity (O magnum mysterium) by Ola Gjeilo – seems an indulgence but is undeniably luminous.