Steven Isserlis / Stephen Hough

Mendelssohn, Grieg, Hough: Cello Sonatas

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Cellists complain about the lack of solo repertory for their instrument, but after hearing this recording some might just feel they're not trying hard enough. One of the pieces here, composed by pianist Stephen Hough, is new, and the other two are only moderately frequently played. But plunge into the Cello Sonata in A minor, Op. 36, of Edvard Grieg, which even the composer himself expressed doubts about. Hough and cellist Steven Isserlis give the work their all, and the result is a performance that puts across the sensuous and somewhat exotic feel Grieg's music would have had in its own time. Check out the room Isserlis and Hough give the second subject in the first movement: it's not just a pretty tune, but an almost mystical forest idyll. The slow movement, in a similar lyrical vein, is equally effective, and these episodes are balanced by faster passages that are likewise given greater weight than is usual with Grieg. The music stands up to that weight, and those who have dismissed Grieg's smaller works as potted-palm music owe it to themselves to hear this recording. The Hough work, in the intermezzo spot on the program, is composed for cello and piano left-hand; it effectively exploits the textures that flow from this configuration, and deploys them in a range of Romantic references. The Mendelssohn Cello Sonata No. 2 in D major, Op. 58, also somewhat neglected, is given an energetic, driving performance, and the entire album is satisfying. But the Grieg is the real news here.

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