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Isserlis, Pletnev & Rachmaninov


Rachmaninov – Two Pieces Op. 2

Julius Isserlis – Ballade for cello and piano

Mikhail Pletnev – Sonata


Steven Isserlis – cello

Kirill Gerstein – piano


Wigmore Hall – 15th June 2009


Steven Isserlis, one of the most gifted cellists performing today, is a versitle musician with a keen interest in historical performance, contemporary work and championing forgotten or ‘lost’ repertoire. His programme for today reflected these interests keenly whilst being organised around a central Russian theme.


Isserlis began with the sublime two pieces for cello from Rachmaninov’s opus 2. Here both musicians showed great affinity for this style of music and we were left aching for more after these stunning miniatures.


They were followed by a Ballade by Steven’s grandfather – a composer who had defected from Stalin’s Russia along with a group of touring musicians and their families. The Ballade, only surviving work for cello, was composed in Vienna where Julian Isserlis taught and composed before he was forced to uproot again and move to England. It is a beautiful work in one movement which is rooted firmly in the Russian romantic tradition. It’s sonorities reminded me of Borodin and the sentiments mirrored those of the Rachmaninov we had just heard.


The concert finished with a new work composed for Isserlis by Pletnev. Isserlis and Pletnev had met on numerous occasions and discovered a common love of Russian romantic music. After much encouragement, Pletnev finally delivered the sonata for cello and piano in 2006. It is a large scale work in three movements – all of which are divided into contrasting sections giving the effect that each of the three movements seems like a Ballade in its own right and to me did not really give a feeling of development or journey. Perhaps because we had been steeped in this kind of Russian romantic nostalgia from the beginning of the recital, the Pletnev felt quite long despite some stunning moments whch received some incredibly technically demanding playing from both Isserlis and Gerstein. The piece ends by fading into silence, as if the gradeur of old Russia has faded into the mists of time. At the end of this recital, I was glad it had...


Tess Ormond