Benjamin Britten

The Britten Cello Suites (Part 4): An Interview with Colin Carr — by Aron Zelkowicz

  Two of my favorite recordings of the Third Britten Suite are both by Colin Carr, with whom I studied during a summer in high school and then years later as a doctoral student.  On both occasions I brought the Third Suite to my lessons.   You first recorded the Third Suite on an album for GM Records, “Unaccompanied Cello”, with solo works by Kodaly, Crumb, and Schuller.  Was this your solo debut album? I had a recording made as part of the Naumburg competition prize, Franck and Debussy sonatas and a few little Faure pieces, but this was my first commercial recording. Why did you choose to include the Britten with these other works? I wanted it to be all unaccompanied and didn't want to play Bach. That meant a [...]

The Britten Cello Suites (Part 3): An Introduction to the Third Suite — by Aron Zelkowicz

  Britten chose to build his Third Suite for Cello around four pre-existing Russian themes: three tunes taken from Tchaikovsky’s volume of folk-song arrangements, and the Kontakion, the Byzantine chant for the dead taken from the Russian Orthodox liturgy.  Rostropovich considered himself Russian Orthodox, and one can appreciate the impact of Britten presenting a score based on this theme as a gift to the cellist in Moscow.  The Third Suite also serves as a dual tribute to Shostakovich.  The second movement, Marcia, includes the signature “anapest” rhythm found in Shostakovich’s symphonies (“da-da-DUM”), and in a subtle yet ingenious linking, the final statement of the Kontakion in C minor employs the notes C-B-Eb-D: a reordered allusion to Shostakovich’s famous four-note D-S-C-H signature (D-Eb-C-B). Britten goes about weaving the Russian-themed motifs in [...]

The Britten Cello Suites (Part 2): An Interview with Steven Doane — by Aron Zelkowicz

My first live encounter with a Britten suite was an in-your-face experience.  Steven Doane played the First Suite, Op. 72 as a “dry run” for a group of students as we crammed into an Eastman studio with barely enough floor space to not get poked with an upbow.  Mr. Doane’s association with the piece has only grown, leading to a brand new recording of the complete suites to be released this year.  I asked Mr. Doane about his thoughts and experiences playing this demanding work over the years. Do you remember the occasion of learning the Britten First Suite for the first time? It’s a piece that I discovered late - I was in my mid thirties when I started working on it, and it was revelatory.  It was an [...]

The Britten Cello Suites (Part 1) — by Aron Zelkowicz

Cellists have as much reason as anyone to celebrate the upcoming Benjamin Britten centenary, if not more so.  The five major cello works he wrote for Mstislav Rostropovich – the sonata, the Symphony Concerto, and the three solo suites – have been taken up in short order as standard repertoire.  By my unofficial count there are twenty recordings of the complete cello suites on the market, not to mention sixteen “incomplete” cycles of one or two suites here and there.  So it can be easy to forget that this music hasn’t been around for very long.  Those of us of a certain age can remember relics like the individually published suites, each score with its distinctly colored cover.  Or Rostropovich’s classic 1970 LP titled, rather definitively, “Britten: The Suites for [...]