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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

LEBRECHT LISTENS | Cellist Steven Isserlis Takes Us Into New Mood Territory

By Norman Lebrecht on September 28, 2018

Steven Isserlis modest Chopin and Schubert cello-piano recital with Dénes Várjon highlights two fine musicians at the peak of their powers.

Chopin: Cello Sonata/Schubert: Arpeggione (Hyperion)

★★★★ (out of five)

A critic’s dilemma. The cellist Steven Isserlis is a pal. He lives around the corner, and we bump into each other at local amenities. He knows I have received his latest release for review. He will be disappointed if I ignore it and grumpy if I find fault. To review or not to review?

If I ruled out reviewing friends, I’d have to turn down half the record output. By the same token, if I mentioned a friendship every time I reviewed, readers would switch off. So what to do?

I made a rule a while back that I would only review friends’ works if they represent a stride beyond past achievement. Having known Steven for about half my life, I can say hand on heart that this modest cello-piano recital with Dénes Várjon takes him into new mood territory.

In both the Chopin G minor sonata and in the C major Introduction et polonaise brillante, he’s a very mellow fellow, playing with a great big smile on his chops, as if he’s tweeting a particularly happy dream. The ease of engagement is infectious. There’s a lovely romantic nocturne by the obscure “Franchomme” and an irresistible reading of Schubert’s sonata. If the Chopin lacks Polish melancholy, I don’t miss it a bit. These are two fine musicians at the peak of their powers playing for pleasure, theirs and ours, all stress banished for an hour.

Dénes, by the way, has a nocturnal piano recital out this month on ECM and no less enchanting in Steven’s favourite composer’s Fantasiestücke. Don’t miss that, either.

Chopin: Cello Sonata/Schubert: Arpeggione is available at Amazon, and iTunes.

Norman Lebrecht

Norman Lebrecht is one of the most widely-read commentators on music, culture and cultural politics. He is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Standpoint, Sinfini and other publications. His blog, Slipped Disc, is among the most widely read cultural sites online, breaking exclusive stories and campaigning against human abuse and acts of injustice in the cultural industries.

Norman Lebrecht

Norman Lebrecht is one of the most widely-read commentators on music, culture and cultural politics. He is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Standpoint, Sinfini and other publications. His blog, Slipped Disc, is among the most widely read cultural sites online, breaking exclusive stories and campaigning against human abuse and acts of injustice in the cultural industries.
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Ludwig Van Toronto

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