Themes and Variations

The Strad Issue: May 2019  
Description: Delightful retrospective recital from a British duo  
Musicians: Guy Johnston (cello) Tom Poster (piano) James Gilchrist (tenor)  
Works: Music by Beethoven, Chopin, Fauré, MacMillan, Martinů, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saëns, Schubert and Schumann  
Catalogue Number: ORCHID CLASSICS ORC100095

It is a refreshing sign of the times that Guy Johnston prefers a discreetly balanced cello, so that each of these delectable pieces emerges as a true duo with his long-term regular playing partner, Tom Poster.

The title is intended as a collective for the cellist and pianist’s musical journey since first meeting at the final of the 2000 BBC Young Musician of the Year – the only true sets of variations here are Beethoven’s ‘Bei Männern’, Mendelssohn’s Variations concertantes and Martinů’s Rossini Variations, all sparklingly played with an effortless sense of style and brio, captured truthfully in glowing sound.

Yet it is when the music turns introspective that the sparks really start to fly. Rarely has Schumann’s op.70 Adagio and Allegro offset heartfelt poetic musings with such radiant joy and elation, while Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise is floated with haunting purity, with any potentially clouding lower-register resonance kept to a minimum.

Saint-Saëns’s Swan floats by with ravishing elegance and panache.

With its sleight-of-hand and shimmering virtuosity, Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise brillante is memorably beguiling; tenor James Gilchrist sounds radiant in Schubert’s ‘Auf dem Strom’, and bringing welcome contemporary contemplation is James MacMillan’s Kiss on Wood.