Russian Cello Sonatas from Isserlis

Shostakovich & Kabalevsky: Cello Sonatas

Steven Isserlis (cello) & Olli Mustonen (piano)

For his latest release on Hyperion, Steven Isserlis joins up with his long term collaborator the Finnish composer and pianist Olli Mustonen to deliver a fascinating programme of Russian works for cello and piano.

The main work on this recording is one of Dmitri Shostakovich’s early works, composed in 1934, the Cello Sonata in D minor, Op. 40. It is written in four movements: the first movement is in sonatina form, the witty second movement has a perpetual motion energy, the third evokes the bleak expanses of Russia and the brief yet ebullient finale in which the piano is let loose in a cadenza of helter-skelter zest. This sonata is given a very thoughtful performance, as one might expect from this duo, and very effective it is too with Mustonen taking on the fiendish quick-change artistry of the piano role with great aplomb and Isserlis exploring the emotional depths of the work.

However the real delight on this disc is Kabalevsky’s Cello Sonata in B flat, Op. 71, written for Rostropovich. In the accompanying booklet, Isserlis states that he and Olly Mustonen  find this work ‘quite masterly – and addictive’. On the basis of this performance of this work, Kabalevsky would seem to be unjustifiably neglected – perhaps, in part, as a result of his toeing the soviet party line, rather than challenging it in the manner that Shostakovich did. This sonata is a very varied work and Isserlis and Mustonen steer us through the moments of quiet introspection and those of almost savage violence to eventually arrive at some sort of calm – it’s quite a ride!

We also get the mellow, somewhat passionate Ballade for Cello and Piano in C minor, Op. 15 by Prokofiev (a work that is in marked contrast to the brash piano works that Prokofiev was writing at the time!) given a darkly shaded, brooding performance by the cellist whose use of vibrato suits this so well. The three short works that complete the recital are also given fine performances and everything has been captured in excellent quality sound. This winning Russian programme from two outstanding performers at the top of their game is unquestionably our Collectors’ Choice this month.

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