Meet Steven Isserlis

I have a good-sized interview with Steven Isserlis in the new issue of the JC. You can hear him on Sunday afternoon at the Proms, when he’ll be playing in the astonishing reconstruction of the Last Night of the Proms 1910 – admission free. Above, listen to him playing Schumann’s Abendlied, arranged by Joachim, with Denes Varjon at the piano – it is mesmerisingly beautiful (so please excuse the 92ndStY’s introductory jingle).

Of course I disapprove terribly of favouritism, but there’s not much point pretending that Isserlis isn’t “my favourite cellist” because he is. You only have to listen to that Schumann or his Bach Solo Suites (on Hyperion) to hear why. His latest CD, ReVisions (on Bis), also shows those stand-out qualities, notably a sound that’s unmistakeably his – part the gut strings, part just sheer guts of the richest and most emotionally honest variety, focusing on stillness and reflection as much as or more than on extrovert flair. 

ReVisions is a fascinating programme of works by Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev and Bloch, each of which has been orchestrated by someone other than the composer. The conductor, the truly great Gabor Takacs-Nagy, is someone we’ll be hearing from much more in this country very soon since he is to take over as chief conductor of the Manchester Camerata. He’s one of the most inspirational musicians I’ve ever encountered, and I do know a few. 

We are all much saddened to learn of the death of Isserlis’s wife, Pauline, who passed away in June after a long struggle with cancer. ReVisions is dedicated to her memory.

UPDATE: In case you were wondering about the origins of that Schumann, oboist Nick Daniel has just written in to tell me that it was originally composed for piano duet, was then arranged for oboe and piano by Joachim, and was left as a thank-you in a visitors’ book.

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