FIRST NIGHT REVIEW: Julian Lloyd-Webber at St Jude's

It's quite an achievement to be at the same time one of Britain s most popular musicians and one of its most undervalued; but it s true of Julian Lloyd Webber who, apart fr

JULIAN LLOYD WEBBER (cello) with Pam Chowhan (piano)

Proms at St Jude's

Four stars

It's quite an achievement to be at the same time one of Britain's most popular musicians and one of its most undervalued; but it's true of Julian Lloyd Webber who, apart from carrying the baggage of his name, gets typecast as the cellist who plays Elgar at family concerts.

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He does play Elgar at family concerts (and does it very well). But he plays plenty of other things besides; and his sold out recital in this week's Proms at St Jude's was like a gourmet tasting-menu that served up examples of how wide his interests actually range.

Compiled for the occasion, some of them were lollipops - Saint-Saens' The Swan, the Faure Elegie - but there were also some exquisite canapes of unknown English repertoire (the JLW speciality) by Frank Bridge and also by Julian's father William. For tougher palates there was some Britten. And for real meat there were two substantial sonatas, the Debussy and the Brahms E minor.

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Accompanied by a pianist, Pam Chowhan, who stayed largely in the background, this was very much a platform for Lloyd Webber's own personality - which is an odd combination of the poetically reflective and prosaically nonchalant: some things lovingly presented, others thrown off with a shrug.

But either way, he's not a flashy player: the direction of this programme was to understatement, never over. And there's no denying the attraction of his lean, light, elegiac sound, which comes with a fantastic delicacy and a fine, seamless legato that seduce the ear.

The only thing I didn't like here was that every item was announced over a spongy speaker system that made JLW sound like a caller in a bingo-hall. St Jude's Proms are a great and wonderful event; but they'd be even better with decent microphones (or, dare I say it, none at all).

Michael White

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