Steven Isserlis / Olli Mustonen

Shostakovich & Kabelevsky: Cello Sonatas; Prokofiev: Ballade

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This group of Russian works for cello and piano was issued by cellist Steven Isserlis and pianist Olli Mustonen in early 2019, shortly after Isserlis turned 60. His playing has grown in depth, and his programming in originality. He has performed cello concertos by Shostakovich and Prokofiev in the past, but the latter quality is on display in the presence of the Cello Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 71, of Dmitri Kabalevsky. This composer is known mostly for his suite from The Comedians, Op. 26, and perhaps the Piano Concerto No. 3 in D major, Op. 50, and he loses points for toeing the Soviet line while Shostakovich was being persecuted. But this sonata shows that more scrutiny of his output is warranted. Sample the "Allegro molto finale," a tense essay in perpetual motion that reaches a unique, uneasy stasis at the end. Isserlis is strong both here and in the Shostakovich Cello Sonata in D minor, Op. 40, a fascinating work that combines the edgy tone of the music of the first part of his career with a more accepting view of traditional tonality; Isserlis is fabulous in the cello's little screams in the second movement "Allegro scherzo." Isserlis and Mustonen also do well in the arch-Romantic and the rather rarely played Ballade in C major, Op. 15, of Prokofiev, and with overall shape of the program, recapitulating the three composers with short works of each at the end. Highly recommended.

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