Impressive playing by young cellist fresh from competition success

John-Henry Crawford: Dialogo

John-Henry Crawford: Dialogo

The Strad Issue: September 2021

Description: Impressive playing by young cellist fresh from competition success

Musicians: John-Henry Crawford (cello) Victor Santiago Asuncion (piano)

Works: Brahms: Cello Sonata no.2 in F major op.99. Ligeti: Sonata for solo cello. Shostakovich: Cello Sonata in D minor op.40

Catalogue number: ORCHID ORC100166

Young American cellist John-Henry Crawford, first prize winner at the 2019 Carlos Prieto Cello Competition, chooses a weighty programme for his debut disc. Playing his grandfather’s 19th-century cello of unknown provenance, smuggled out of Austria under the Nazis, Crawford particularly excels in Ligeti’s solo Sonata, unpublished until 1990.

In Dialogo, the first movement, Crawford presents the folk-like theme clearly and simply, building to more intense heights of expression. His glissando pizzicatos and double-stops ring out with a rich clarity. The clean, close recording is like seeing everything through a very powerful lens – in the virtuosic second movement the torrents of rapid notes and frenzied, biting semiquavers are right in your face. The final chord resounds for a full seven seconds.

Crawford finds a wide range of tonal colours in Shostakovich’s Sonata, digging deep into his eloquent C string and finding an intense sound on his top string at climactic points. The clarity of his attack and crisp staccato in the Allegro movements and his thoughtful reading of the inward-looking Largo make this a striking interpretation.

Brahms’s Second Sonata contains some decisive playing and subtle rubato. I liked the focused sound of Crawford’s lower strings but found the high tessitura tone rather tight and the last movement too conservative in tempo.