Steven Isserlis

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British cellist Steven Isserlis points out that the four composers represented on this disc have a number of things in common -- they were born within 30 years of each other, had nationalist tendencies, and all lived at some point in Paris -- but the major unifying theme is the fact that Isserlis commissioned all these arrangements of pieces that had originally existed in other formats. The circumstances of the creation of each of the arrangements are fascinating and sometimes moving, and the results are so attractive that they could easily enter the limited repertoire of works for cello and chamber orchestra. To call British composer Sally Beamish's Suite pour violoncelle et orchestre a reconstruction is a bit of a stretch, since only one movement of Debussy's very early work survives, but the addition of four other pieces, one for cello and piano, two piano works, and a song, makes for a lovely and cohesive suite. Ravel's Deux mélodies hébraïques exists in versions for voice and piano, and voice and orchestra, but Richard Tognetti's idiomatic arrangement for cello, harp, and strings makes a persuasive case for the substitution of the cello for voice. Christopher Palmer's version of Bloch's From Jewish Life for cello and piano is soulfully and exquisitely expressive. Prokofiev left his Concertino for cello and orchestra incomplete at his death, and Dmitry Kabalevsky was called in to finish and orchestrate it. Isserlis always objected to Kabalevsky's version, which he considered loud and clunky, so he asked Vladimir Blok for a new version, which Blok completed on his deathbed. The new arrangement incurred the ire of Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom Prokofiev wrote the work, but it is undeniably an appealing version, transparent and quirkily inventive. Isserlis performs with the impeccable technique and interpretive sensitivity for which he is known; this is an absolutely secure and emotionally resonant performance and should delight fans of the cello. Gábor Takács-Nagy leads the Tapiola Sinfonietta in a luminous and heartfelt accompaniment. The sound of BIS' SACD is clean and very present. It's sometimes even possible to hear Isserlis' strings hitting the fingerboard, but rather than being a distraction, it contributes to a sense of intimacy that beautifully suits the character of this new repertoire.

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