Proms Chamber Music No.7 (1 September)

Cello Sonata in C, Op.119
Sonata for Solo Cello on a Theme of Sir William Walton [London premiere]
Cello Sonata

Steven Isserlis (cello) &
Kirill Gerstein (piano)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 1 September, 2003
Venue: Lecture Theatre, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

A nicely-balanced recital from Steven Isserlis and Kirill Gerstein – the latter’s buoyant and perceptive pianism indicative of a major new talent. Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata is often referred to in terms of its passivity and resignation, but Isserlis’s full-bloodedness in the intricate opening movement, and touches of irony and equivocal humour elsewhere, gave it greater emotional heft than is the norm. Poulenc’s Cello Sonata, completed in 1953 after a lengthy gestation, is a virtual compendium of the moods – and mood-swings! – of his maturity: alternately fulsome and chaste in the ’Cavatine’, playful in the ’Ballabile’, while melding rhetoric with reason in the opening ’Allegro’ and in the finale.

In between, a first London outing for Robert Saxton’s Solo Sonata on a Theme of Walton. The theme in question was composed in 1970, but remained ’variation-less’ until Saxton gave it context in four movements of contrasting but interlinking motion and character. A searching ’Passacaglia’ and animated ’Dance’ follow a closely-argued ’Praeludium’. The final ’Song’ rediscovers the theme in soulful and understated terms. Played with palpable dedication by Isserlis, this is a notable addition to an area of repertoire that has come into its own in the half century since Saxton was born.

  • Radio 3 re-broadcast on Sunday 7 September at 1 p.m.
  • BBC Proms

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