Steven Isserlis is revered amongst cellists not just for his technical mastery, but also for his enquiring mind which seeks out lesser-known repertoire (and tells you about it), as well as his vibrant stage presence which carries his enthusiasm straight to every listener. Joined by brilliant young Canadian pianist Connie Shih, he creates an unforgettable emotional journey, traversing glorious works by four great composers united by their love of all things French.
“The cello, of all instruments, makes one dream of Elsewhere when one hears it,” says composer Thomas Adès. He wrote his evocative, colourful picture-scapes Lieux Retrouvés (Remembered Places) for Isserlis, and seized the opportunity to push some limits, causing the cellist to claim the finale as “the hardest piece I’ve ever learned!”
But there are plenty of surprises elsewhere in the program, too. A far cry from the famous ‘Swan’, Saint-Saëns’ first cello sonata is wild and dramatic, with a gripping opening giving way to passionate storms and voyages. The second sonata by his student and compatriot Fauré is a late work, noted for its beautiful, funereal slow movement and sparkling, optimistic ending. César Franck’s Sonata was a marriage gift for the famous musician Eugène Ysaÿe, and finishes appropriately enough with peals of bells – a wonderful way to end a concert.
Cello Sonata no 1 in C minor, op 32
Cello Sonata no 2 in G minor, op 117
Cello Sonata, from Violin Sonata in A major