Tim Hugh, son of a doctor and a music teacher, began cello lessons aged eight with Bernard Gregor-Smith of the Lindsay Quartet. Having attended the RNCM Junior School under Moray Welsh and spent a year with Aldo Parisot at Yale, he studied medicine and physical anthropology at Cambridge University before emerging as a full-time cellist. Whilst at university he took lessons with William Pleeth and Jacqueline du Pré, furnishing himself with the finest elements of the British tradition and inheriting a connection with the Klengel–Becker generation of the Dresden ‘line’.
His post as principal cellist of the London Symphony Orchestra has afforded him countless opportunities to work with the world’s most eminent conductors; one of his first appearances with the orchestra was as soloist, standing in for Rostropovich.
As might be expected from a modern cellist, Hugh’s recordings span a considerable scope of repertoire. Some of his earliest recorded work includes Fauré’s Piano Quartets with Domus, which won Gramophone and Deutschen Schallplattenkritik awards. One highlight is his set of Boccherini’s Cello Concertos Nos. 1–8 (1995–1996); these distinctively Italianate classical works with a typical lightness of form are not easy to deliver effectively under modern conditions (steel strings, vibrato-centred tone production, large concert halls and so on). Happily, Hugh adopts a light tone with carefully reigned-in vibrato and a bowing style that favours agility over ultimate power, allowing a transparent delicacy to the sound that is well balanced by tidy playing from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Slow movements are especially atmospheric, whilst outer movements are generally taken at well-judged tempi. There can be inconsistencies of tone and intonation high on the A-string, but these are common problems in such repertoire even with the greatest players.
It is noticeable that Hugh varies his approach in different repertoire. A broad and strong tone allows the Brahms Double Concerto (live, 2003) to sing with appropriate gravitas, although overall this is not an especially exciting recording, with rather staid tempi and nothing outstanding from violinist Gordan Nikolitch. The soloists fail to coordinate well in the opening duo of the slow movement, but Hugh’s playing is appropriate in style. The same might be said of the Bliss Concerto (1995), a worthy performance in which Hugh’s playing is a little ambivalent and remote, not necessarily inappropriate in such repertoire. Finzi’s turbulent Concerto is seldom performed or recorded and Hugh’s 2001 performance makes an excellent contribution to the recorded canon of cello works.
Perhaps the most convincing recorded material here is the Suite No. 1 from a set of Britten’s Cello Suites (1994). Avoiding the temptations of pastiche in a work obviously based on Baroque models, Britten delivers a varied cornucopia of techniques and styles, performed with absolute technical assurance and appropriate levels of emotional introspection by Hugh in a highly accomplished interpretation.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)
|Box Set Release
|English Choral Music