Mad as a Hatter
Six Israeli Melodies Kinnereth; Wanderers Song
A Merry Dance
A Sunday Evening in Autumn
The Swans glide on the Bishops Palace moat
Minuet (arr. Goltermann)
With Miriam by the River
12 Easy Pieces Gavotte
The Young Cellist
Serenade [arr. Gendron]
Song Without Words, Op.109
Frogs Dancing on Water-Lilies
The Haunted House
Steven Isserlis (cello) & Stephen Hough (piano) with Simon Callow (narrator, The Haunted House)
Recorded in August 2005 in Potton Hall, Suffolk
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: June 2006
CD No: BIS-CD-1562
Duration: 81 minutes
This is an utterly charming disc, with an equally appealing narrative behind it. The genesis of “Children’s Cello” lies in dinner-parties at the Isserlis household, involving the two main protagonists on this disc, together with Isserlis’s wife Pauline and his son Gabriel, the dedicatee, and himself a budding cellist.
As his father recounts in the booklet, Gabriel would occasionally practise some of the easier pieces on this disc, and in doing so alerted Isserlis senior to their musicality, regardless of technical level. Stephen Hough, a cellist himself up until the age of fourteen, was a natural choice for this disc – quite apart from being Isserlis’s friend and a regular musical partner, he would sometimes accompany these after-dinner practise sessions.
Cellists will recognise some of the repertoire here from Associated Board exams. From my own experience I recalled the jaunty A Merry Dance of Adam Carse, and the wonderful exuberance of David Popper’s Gavotte. The former, a Grade 3 piece, falls into the ‘Intermediate’ section here along with nuggets from Sibelius, George Dyson, Frank Bridge and Amy Beach. Also included here is a sprightly arrangement of Boccherini’s ‘Ladykillers’ Minuet.
To begin, the ‘First Steps’ section is a simple delight, and in particular Ludwig Lebell’s Berceuse Orientale. Requiring only open strings and piano right-hand, and is a clear example of less being more. Joachim Stutschewsky, a familiar name for lovers (or not) of technical etudes, contributes two arrangements that Isserlis performs with plenty of élan.
From ‘Intermediate’ to ‘The Young Cellist’, which finds Popper flanked by Maurice Gendron’s arrangement of Poulenc, and given humorous asides. In addition, Isserlis includes the occasional repertoire item: one of Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words, in particular, a lyrical treat.
Finally, ‘Gabriel’s Corner’, and short gems from Howard Blake and Olli Mustonen, followed by two pieces from Hough based on the dedicatee’s musical name; a nice touch. A brief appearance from Simon Callow closes the disc, narrating the Isserlis’s own and agreeably silly The Haunted House.
Even if the cello isn’t your speciality, there’s something on this disc for everyone: the inner child in all our musical tastes. As an educational tool its value could be priceless – if I was learning the cello now (rather than going backwards!) this well-programmed collection would be my inspiration.