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(b 1951 )

Julian Lloyd Webber was born into the London musical scene. His father William was a composer, organist, teacher at the Royal College of Music and Director of the London College of Music; his mother taught piano. From the age of six he took cello lessons from Alison Dalrymple (who was also Jacqueline du Pré’s teacher) and three years later became a Junior Exhibitioner at the Royal College of Music. At thirteen he received tuition from Douglas Cameron, the teacher whom he credits with having had the most profound influence on his playing. At the RCM he studied with Joan Dickson and Harvey Phillips, coming to prominence there at an eightieth birthday concert for Sir Arthur Bliss at which he played the Prokofiev Concerto. In 1972 Lloyd Webber gave the first London performance of Bliss’s Cello Concerto, which had been written for Rostropovich. He finished his training with Pierre Fournier in Geneva the following year.

His 1984 autobiography has done much to popularise his reputation, being a candid, humorous account of his professional experiences, whilst his name has been lent to collections and arrangements of famous works in the cello literature. His penchant for well-known and seminal cello works is epitomised by his performance of Fauré’s Elégie at the 1993 Hallé Orchestra’s ‘Promfest’, which won him renewed critical acclaim. He has also given first performances of over fifty new compositions, bringing many modern works to mainstream audiences by virtue of being such an accessible musical personality.

A great believer in music as a life-changing force, Lloyd Webber devotes significant efforts to promoting music education and lobbying for its financial support. His Music Education Consortium, formed with James Galway and Evelyn Glennie, prompted funding of £332,000,000 for music education from the British government in 2007. In addition he chairs In Harmony Sistema England, a project which (based on Venezuela’s El Sistema) aims to bring government- and charity-funded art-music experiences to children in the most deprived areas of the UK. He also holds the unique distinction of being the first licensed busker on the London Underground.

It seems fitting that an artist so thoroughly steeped in British musical culture should be represented here by British works. All reveal Lloyd Webber’s flexible and lithe sound, and his beautiful control of tone and colour. There is a particularly lyrical Walton Cello Concerto (1996), contrasting with the hard-edged approach often adopted by many soloists. His famous 1985 Elgar Concerto under Yehudi Menuhin still bears out the accolades it received upon its release, including ‘Best British Classical Recording’ from the British Phonographic Industry award panel. Whilst stylistically quite conventional, it is distinguished by an extremely pure tone with a relaxed and responsive vibrato, leading to a very sensitively crafted performance. In this respect Lloyd Webber’s sound, slightly lacking in the ultimate heft of some cellists, is arresting. He can sometimes be overpowered, as in the unusual Concerto for Cello and Saxophone by Michael Nyman (1997) where the cello’s tone is occasionally lost beneath the brassier saxophone. He is, however, well suited to the Nocturne from St Francis of Assisi composed by his father (1997), which shows that the communication of memorable melodies (in both composition and performance) is indeed an inherited family trait. Two charming arrangements of lyric pieces by Delius and Ireland respectively (2011) further show Lloyd Webber’s prowess in the melodic genre. Arthur Sullivan’s Cello Concerto (1986) is included as an example of the repertoire revival with which Lloyd Webber is associated—his is the première recording. For all its lightness of mood, this is a work of charm and textural skill that deserves to be better known; Lloyd Webber, with a fastidious tone and commitment to the music’s qualities, is a convincing advocate.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)

Interview: Julian Lloyd Webber on Delius courtesy of Gramophone

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