Brahms’s Cello Sonatas – Isserlis/Hough

0 of 5 stars

Cello Sonata No.1 in E minor, Op.38
Cello Sonata No.2 in F, Op.99
Waldesruhe, Op.68/5
Rondo in G minor, Op.94
Ballade in D minor, Op.3/1
Serenade in A, Op.3/2

Steven Isserlis (cello) & Stephen Hough (piano)

Recorded between 2-4 May 2005 in St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: January 2006
Duration: 74 minutes

Steven Isserlis has decided to revisit his first Hyperion recording, where his partner some twenty years ago was Peter Evans. Now with Stephen Hough as the pianist, Isserlis returns to Brahms in the context of fellow Romantics Dvořák and Suk in a most appealing and generous programme.

Both Brahms performances are extremely good, and represent a slight quickening in Isserlis’s choice of tempos compared to the earlier recordings. The cellist retains a strong sense of legato throughout, and this is particularly evident in the first movement of the E minor Sonata, the soft beginning beautifully mellow but the stormy development masked slightly by a reverberant acoustic. The delicate Allegretto is charmingly played, which heightens the impact of Hough’s arresting start to the fugue with which the last movement begins. The momentum tails off somewhat as the music progresses to its emphatic end – a passage hammered home by Rostropovich and Rudolf Serkin in their recording for DG – but nonetheless this is a fine performance.

So too is the F major Sonata, with Hough noticeably further forward in the balance at the high voltage outset. Isserlis’s playing brims with passion, but Brahms’s fuller textures are occasionally marred by the acoustic, some of the piano detail difficult to distinguish. Again a strong legato line and an obvious chemistry between the two performers are in evidence, and the exuberant ending is a victory well fought.

The fill-ups are more problematic, as three of them bring a tendency in Isserlis to slide expressively between notes, a performance trait that will no doubt divide opinion. The two slower pieces suffer most, with a heart on sleeve rendition of Waldesruhe (Silent Woods) and a deeply felt Suk Ballade whose melodic line is sometimes difficult to grasp though the sentiments are undeniably clear. The Serenade fares much better, a nice lightness of touch from both, as does the majority of Dvořák’s Rondo, where the two enjoy the mildly mischievous theme and Isserlis secures beautiful tone and tuning in the higher register.

A few misgivings, then, but nonetheless an extremely interesting disc, and thoughtfully compiled at that. Nobody could accuse these musicians of not being wholeheartedly involved in the music they play.

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