Earth, Sea, Air & British Music for Cello and Orchestra

Earth, Sea, Air & British Music for Cello and Orchestra

In 2012, the then-15-year-old Laura van der Heijden triumphed in the finals of BBC Young Musician with a thrilling performance of William Walton’s Cello Concerto from 1956 (revised 1975). Twelve years later, the British cellist has finally taken this striking 20th-century work into the studio. Walton’s music marries postwar acerbity, a Korngold-esque, almost Hollywood luster and that brand of bittersweet melancholy common in 20th-century English music. Van der Heijden has an astonishing technical and musical fluency—so clear in the skittish second movement “Allegro appassionato,” where Walton’s cascading harmonics are nonchalantly yet delicately dispatched, and in the final, drifting “Tema ed improvvisazioni,” where every phrase is caressed and shaped, the music pushing inexorably to the return to the opening movement’s glorious, searching theme. This album’s two remaining works are no less engaging—Frank Bridge’s searing, jolting, often anguished anti-war cry Oration (1930) enjoys a welcome return, and is the perfect showcase for Van der Heijden’s rich, deep tone and rhythmic alertness. Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s Cello Concerto Earth, Sea, Air, composed for Van der Heijden in 2022, portrays, in the composer’s own words, “three disparate aspects of the natural world: the imaginary flight of a swift; phytoplankton (algae) in the ocean; and volcanoes.” Frances-Hoad has a gift for innovative soundworlds, and cloaks the sublime cello line in beautifully shifting orchestral textures, most notably in “Sea” and “Air.” Throughout, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with conductor Ryan Wigglesworth prove responsive musical partners, complementing and supporting Van der Heijden at every turn with playing of impressive tautness, clarity, and warmth.

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