Benjamin Britten

Suite for solo cello No. 2, Op. 80

    Description by Andrew Lindemann Malone

    Like its predecessor, Benjamin Britten's Cello Suite No. 2 (1967) was inspired both by Johann Sebastian Bach's suites for solo cello and the artistry of cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. Like the first suite, the second blends Baroque forms with Britten's modern sensibility. Thus, the first two movements, a Declamato and a fugue, are similar in basic structure to a Bach prelude and fugue. The "Declamato" has an improvised, rhapsodic feel, sounding like an impassioned speech; quiet, pleading passages yield unexpectedly to angry, bold gestures from the cello. A very slow fugue follows. Britten makes extensive use of the style brisé here, which allows the composer to suggest, with melodic lines shifting between pitch levels, counterpoint that cannot actually be played on the cello. Since the fugue is so slow, however, the melodic lines are somewhat difficult to follow, giving the movement a mysterious air. A short Scherzo follows, featuring breakneck melodic motion occasionally interrupted by a four-note upward motive that seems to break off mid-flight; the whole movement seems to abhor coming to rest. Britten makes use of an unusual technique in the following Andante lento, having the cellist play a sustained melody on one string while plucking out the accompaniment on another. The winding, sad melody goes through a few variations, including one played entirely pizzicato, before ending up about where it started. The final Ciaccona, a favorite form of both Bach and Britten, carries the most weight of the movements; it is by far the longest and the fastest. The Ciaccona sounds more like a Baroque movement than any other, as it adheres relatively closely to proper chaconne form. The music moves quickly between emotional extremes, at one moment robust and joyous, at another tender and slower, but retains an almost irrepressible forward momentum until the final resolute note. Much like Britten's first cello suite, this suite is a highly creative and vital artistic response both to Bach's writing and Rostropovich's playing.


    1. Declamato. Largo
    2. Fuga. Andante
    3. Scherzo. Allegro molto
    4. Andante lento
    5. Ciaccona. Allegro

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Globe Records GLO 5259
    2016 London
    2015 Danacord DACOCD 770
    2013 Hyperion CDA 679412
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94729
    2013 Signum Classics SIGCD 336
    2013 Delphian DCD 34125
    2013 Decca 4785364
    2013 Harmonia Mundi HMA 1951670
    2013 Fondamenta FON 1210010
    2013 Entertainment Group 12810
    2013 Entertainment Group 6101
    2012 Decca
    2012 Decca 4783577
    2011 Orfeo C 835111 A
    2011 Centaur Records CRC 3154
    2010 Decca
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099921752
    2008 ATMA Classique 2524
    2007 Apex
    2006 EtCetera Records 20062
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 Brilliant 92771
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon 002894775506
    2004 EMI Classics 62828
    2003 Ambroisie AMB 9927
    2003 Nimbus 5704
    2002 Channel Classics 17102
    2001 Erato / Virgin 7243545399
    2001 Naïve 782081
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 72297
    1998 Harmonia Mundi 911670
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 72016
    1996 Naxos 553663
    1996 KontraPunkt 32101
    1995 Globe Records 5074
    1994 BIS 446
    1989 London 4218592
    1988 Hyperion 66274
    Brilliant 92771/10
    Channel Classics 17198