Frank Bridge: Oration 
Frances-Hoad: Earth, Sea, Air 
William Walton: Cello Concerto

Laura van der Heijden cello
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Ryan Wigglesworth conductor

Chandos CHSA 5346

Laura van der Heijden came to our attention when she won the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2012, playing the Walton Cello Concerto. Since that time, she has been somewhat out of the limelight, taking time to study for a degree in music at Cambridge, while keeping up her playing.

She appears on two previous solo CDs for Chandos as well as discs where she is part of an ensemble. Now, 12 years after her BBC win, she has committed the Walton to disc and paired it with Bridge’s Oration and a new work written for her, the concertante work titled Earth, Sea, Air by Cheryl Frances-Hoad.

For the latter, the composer and cellist worked together on the piece, which is a three-movement work played without a break. It is a ‘celebration of nature’, and according to the composer, ‘an entirely unrealistic anthropomorphic journey of a swift around the globe’. It was also informed by Frances- Hoad’s interest in volcanoes, and the pull volcanos have on gravity – and we can hear that in the ‘pull’ in the musical material of the first section Earth. Cool basalt lava pillars are the inspiration for Sea, and we are to imagine the swift joining the entire flock in the Air section.

The work starts with a brittle loud orchestral chord from which the cello emerges and plays an extended solo, punctuated at first by striking chords. There is contrast between the tutti orchestral sections and the cello’s lyrical lines. Sea emerges from the depths, but the melodic lines are less angular; it is a mournful slow movement with tolling bells. It builds to an orchestral climax dominated by horns. Restless figures in the orchestra mark the beginning of Air, which ends abruptly with a loud short chord (as at the beginning) as if the work could go round again. Overall, it is a very dramatic and eventful work, and Larua van der Heijden plays it with conviction. 

Bridge wrote his Oration in 1929 as a reaction to his feelings about the Great War. He found it hard to get a first performance, and the work proved to be a difficult listen for the audiences of the time when eventually it was played in 1936 in a BBC Contemporary Music Concert. It is a big-boned work, and here it gets a glorious outing, although I feel Laura could ‘dig in’ a little more.

I found the first movement of the Walton concerto a little slow and lacklustre but overall, the cello playing is immaculate, and Laura is well supported by BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth. The fast middle movement is particularly successful.

Review by Ronald Corp