Anna Clyne – Dance / Sir Edward Elgar – Cello Concerto

Inbal Segev (Cello), Marin Alsop (Cond.) and the LPO


By Roy Gregory

One of the great conundrums facing anybody who is, in turn facing that great, sprawling category loosely referred to as “Classical Music” – is where exactly to start? Over the years, there have been a few pieces that have found almost universal acceptance – the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, Scheherazade, various bits of Beethoven and of course, the almost ubiquitous Four Seasons, in versions ancient and modern – but all too often they constitute developmental dead ends, never quite answering the question, “Where next?” Listening to this disc, I was struck by just how neatly it bridges that gap between classical listeners old and new.

The cello has ever been a fascinatingly evocative instrument. Matching as it does our own vocal range, it ‘speaks’ with a familiar voice – which perhaps helps to explain the enduring popularity of works as varied as the Bach Suites and the Elgar and Dvorak concertos. Israeli-born but American-based cellist Inbal Segev includes the Elgar here, a confident and emotive performance that embodies clear echoes of the seminal Barbirolli/Du Pré recordings on EMI. Perhaps it won’t tell seasoned listeners anything new about the work, but it’s an inviting, accessible and more than entertaining introduction for newcomers.

But what makes this disc really interesting is the inclusion of Anna Clyne’s cello concerto, Dance, a contemporary, English piece in five short movements. Commissioned and debuted by Segev herself, it was completed almost exactly 100 years after the Elgar. Each movement is based on one of the five lines in the Rumi poem of the same name –

Dance, when you’re broken open.

Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.

Dance in the middle of the fighting.

Dance in your blood.

Dance, when you’re perfectly free.

With most of the sections lasting around four minutes and none of them stretching much past six, this is a rapidly shifting kaleidoscope of tone and texture, technique and orchestration. Segev’s playing runs the full gamut, bouncing, juddering, quivering and drawing her bow across the strings to conjure an astonishing expressive range from her instrument. Long, sweepingly lyrical lines are juxtaposed with jagged, almost physically urgent interjections, a marriage between the tunes of Prokofiev and the attack and dynamism of Caroline Shaw. Set against the typically luminous string tone of the LPO and underpinned by the familiar, perfectly placed timpanic eruptions of the finest orchestral percussionist I’ve yet heard, the musical effect is as vital and varied as it is dramatic and captivating. Tauter, shorter and less sumptuous than its partner piece, it is nonetheless a perfect foil for the familiar emotive sweep of the Elgar, a reflection of changing times and a changing world. Alsop’s direction of what is currently (at least to my ears and tastes) the finest British orchestra, is as intelligent and unobtrusive as it is nicely balanced against the solo instrument. Interestingly, this is one recording in which the band’s respect for the director’s baton is as obvious as it so often is (and occasionally isn’t) at live concerts. Her reputation as a sympathetic and collaborative conductor continues to grow – and this outing will do nothing to diminish it.