Monday, April 20, 2015

Album Review Steven Isserlis
Peter Quantrill
16 April 2015

British cellist Steven Isserlis delivers an unmissable disc, says Peter Quantrill, in this collection of Russian repertoire that even challenges the supremacy of the great Rostropovich.
Label: Hyperion
Rating *****
Prokofiev & Shostakovich: Cello Concertos by Steven Isserlis, Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt, Paavo Järvi

Deranged nuns, inveterate gamblers and fairytale princesses are stock-in-trade characters for Prokofiev’s operas, and it doesn’t take a wild imaginative leap to hear such fantastical characters peopling the busy, welcoming sprawl of his Cello Concerto like a comic-book city. It's thanks to Steven Isserlis, who makes a piece with a chequered history and ‘difficult’ reputation sound like a masterpiece completely characteristic of its creator.
In his hands, the yearning melody of the opening Andante is worthy of Romeo and Juliet (also composed in the mid-1930s), while the Scherzo’s rough humour jabs you in the ribs like a red-nosed joker from Gogol thanks to punchy support from the winds of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. Even the rambling variations of the finale are held together with a very timely narrative of one man against many, elucidated by Isserlis in a passionately argued booklet note: 'The better I know it, the more I love it', he says, and sympathetic listeners will feel the same.
Shostakovich’s First Concerto may require less personal advocacy, but Isserlis steps out from Rostropovich's bear-like shadow in this music to present another confrontation between individuality and the mechanistic forces of unknowable power. There’s a wonderful moment in the second movement where a waltz drifts in like a ghost orchestra in a deserted ballroom, and Paavo Järvi works hand in glove with his soloist throughout, offering more positive and detailed support than Isserlis received on a recent DVD of the work with different accompanists. It’s an unmissable disc.
Artists: Steven Isserlis (cello), Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
Peter Quantrill has written for (among others) Gramophone, Deutsche Grammophon, the Salzburg Festival and Paul McCartney

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