Chopin: Cello sonata/Schubert: Arpeggione (Hyperion)

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A critic’s dilemma. The cellist Steven Isserlis is a pal. He lives around the corner and we bump into each other at local amenities. He knows I have received his latest release for review. He will be disappointed if I ignore it and grumpy if I find fault. To review or not to review?

If I ruled out reviewing friends I’d have to turn down half the record output. By the same token, if I mentioned a friendship every time I reviewed, readers would switch off. So what to do?

I made a rule a while back that I would only review friends’ works if they represent a stride beyond past achievement. Having known Steven for about half my life, I can say hand on heart that this modest cello-piano recital with Denes Varjon takes him into new mood territory.

In both the Chopin G minor sonata and in the C major Intrduction et polonaise brillante, he’s a very mellow fellow, playing with a great big smile on his chops, as if he’s tweeting a particularly happy dream. The ease of engagement is infectious. There’s a lovely romantic nocturne by the obscure Franchomme and an irresistible reading of Schubert’s sonata. If the Chopin lacks Polish melancholy, I don’t miss it a bit. These are two fine musicians at the peak of their powers playing for pleasure, theirs and ours, all stress banished for an hour.

Denes, by the way, has a nocturnal piano recital out this month on ECM and no less enchanting in Steven’s favourite composer’s Fantasiestücke. Don’t miss that, either.

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About Author

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review // Norman Lebrecht est un rédacteur prolifique couvrant les événements musicaux et Slipped Disc, est un des plus populaires sites de nouvelles culturelles. Il anime The Lebrecht Interview sur la BBC Radio 3 et collabore à plusieurs publications, dont The Wall Street Journal et The Standpoint. Vous pouvez lire ses critiques de disques chaque vendredi.

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