Rostropovich’s spirit looms large in these personal interpretations

Britten Spahn

Jakob Spahn: Britten

The Strad Issue: May 2021

Description: Rostropovich’s spirit looms large in these personal interpretations

Musicians: Jakob Spahn (cello)

Works: Britten: Solo Cello Suites nos.1–3, Tema Sacher

Catalogue number: HÄNSSLER CLASSIC HC 20063

Every cellist worth their salt seems to have the urge to record the Bach Cello Suites, yet Britten’s aren’t faring too badly either, gaining a healthy discography from Rostropovich onwards, especially in recent years from younger musicians. The latest contender is the Berlin-born player Jakob Spahn, a pupil of Geringas and Bohórquez who has been solo cellist of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich for a decade already, despite his relative youth. His playing here is fresh and engaging, taking us deeply into Britten’s sound world, which at the same time is intimately personal and references everything from Bach himself to Russian chant.

Spahn is barely fazed by the technical challenges of Britten’s cello writing, though the notorious ‘Bordone’ of the First Suite, with its drone, melodic flurries and left-hand pizzicato all in play at once, doesn’t have quite the smooth command of Rostropovich, yet the sense of danger actually enhances the music’s expressive ambiguity here. Elsewhere, he makes the more intractable Second Suite sing out and finds the poignancy in the Third Suite’s lingering sense of valediction without ever sentimentalising.

The Munich Künstlerhaus recording has a nice bloom and conveys the full range of Spahn’s tonal resources, which are considerable.