Music and Musicians February 1987



ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER: Variations on a Theme of Paganini for cello and orchestra

W.S. LLOYD WEBBER: Aurora – Symphonic Poem for Orchestra

Julian Lloyd Webber, cello/London Philharmonic Orchestra/Lorin Maazel, conductor ***philips 420 342-1 (LP)-2(CD)-4(MC)

Many music-lovers (though not primarily classical ones) will be familiar with the larger work on this album, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Variations’ – in the original version for cello and rock ensemble, and many more will know at least part of it from the use of one of the variations as the theme tune for the London Weekend Television arts programme ‘The South Bank Show’. Andrew Lloyd Webber is not a composer to waste material: this original version formed the ‘Dance’ part of the theatrical evening ‘Song and Dance’.

The new album follows closely upon the premiere of the most recent of the three guises of the work, as a concert item, now orchestrated for full symphony orchestra as an extended set of symphonic variations. It confirms a number of things: first, that the comparative artistic failure of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Requiem’ was an unfortunate aberration; secondly, and much more importantly, that the composer is greatly gifted indeed and in this eminently worth-while and utterly convincing orchestration he has added an important contemporary concertante piece for cello and orchestra to a still-thin repertoire, a piece that, if there is justice in contemporary music-making, should be taken up by many cellists and orchestras all over the world. In this new guise ‘Variations’ is a spendid composition; one is continually amazed at how a genuinely creative composer can mine a seam that Schumann, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Lutoslawski and Blacher (among others) had already fully explored before, and doing so on an extensive (36’ approx) scale. Julian Lloyd Webber plays brilliantly: he clearly believes in his brother’s piece, written for him of course, and gives a staggering performance. In this he is handsomely abetted by Maazel and the LPO, who follow him like a cat. They play it for all it is worth – dazzling, beautiful, sentimental, hard and glistening by turns and the result in such a splendidly balanced recording is a triumphant success.

As if ‘Variations’ was not enough, the record is completed by the first recording of the one major orchestral work by the brothers’ father, William Lloyd Webber, who died in 1982 aged 68. ‘Aurora’ is a difficult work to pin-point in style: English, certainly, but not at all derivative, although echoes may be traced of Bax, Ireland and Moeran. It shows that W.S. Lloyd Webber (of whom I had previously thought as an eminently respectable composer of Methodist Easter cantatas, and not much else) was an artist of no mean achievement. Maazel directs a performance of committed character; whilst he is in an English music frame of mind, dare one suggest a VW 4, a Billy Budd, or a Walton 1?

In any event, this album will surprise and delight many people: it deserves to be greatly successful.