Cello, Prokofiev and Candide CDs reviewed


BRITISH SOLO CELLO MUSIC: Isserlis / Momen ★★★★

The lockdown encouraged solo performers to do something slightly different. Steven Isserlis has recorded a personal disc which his entertaining anecdotal notes greatly enrich. His affectionate sketch of the eccentric Frank Merrick – the 17-year-old Isserlis often visited the 90-year-old's home – makes his performance of the Handelian 'Suite in the eighteenth century style' come alive in its first recording What a delightful work it is, the 'Air' and seven dance movements ranging, in Isserlis's words. "from the cheeky to the poignant". Britten's Cello Suite No.3 – written for Rostropovich – is more substantial, tinged with meditations on mortality with Isserlis's' playing particularly trenchant. It's a bonus to hear him in its four Russian folk themes, a helpful listening aid, where he is accompanied by pianist Mishka Rushdie Momen. Two short pieces by Walton and one each from John Gardner and Thomas Adès – whose 'Sola' closes the disc – round off a very stimulating album.

Norman Stinchcombe

PROKOFIEV: Yang / ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra / Märkl ★★★
Prokofiev's violin concertos came from two crucial periods of his life . The first (1923) from his touring years in Europe and America, the second (1935) from just before his return to live in Soviet Russia. The first exhibits his enfant terrible style – spiky and volatile – while the tuneful and romantic second inhabits the sound world of his 'Romeo and Juliet' ballet, right down to the distinctive use of the bass drum. Tianwa Yang's bright, sharply focused sound suits the first concerto perfectly, capturing the delicate shimmering opening and the scherzo's manic, madcap frenzy where conductor Jun Märkl supports her with a suitably fast tempo. Yang is also charming in the easy-on-the-ear Sonata for Solo Violin (1947). In the G minor concerto however, she is too cool and detached, while the orchestral playing lacks charm. Gil Shaham, superb with the LSO under Previn, reveals the passion and tenderness Yang misses.
Norman Stinchcombe

BERNSTEIN CANDIDE: Capalbo, Archibald, LSO / Alsop ★★★★★
Leonard Bernstein was at his best when not trying to be profound. His heavyweight symphonies lumber portentously but his light music soars – and 'Candide' is his masterpiece. Voltaire's sharp ideological satire occasionally shows through – the blackly comic Auto-da-fé chorus – but the overwhelming impression is what fun Bernstein is having juggling so many musical forms so dextrously. Cunegonde's spectacular bel canto 'Glitter and Be Gay' (worthy of Donizetti or Rossini); a waltz, gavotte, the Old Lady's tango and the big-hearted sentimental tenor aria 'It Must Be So'. Marin Alsop, a Bernstein conducting alumna, handles the kaleidoscopic score admirably and the LSO are in virtuoso form. Bernstein's own LSO recording is mandatory listening, with an unbeatable cast, but here Jane Archibald (Cunegonde), Leonardo Capalbo (Candide) and Anne Sofie von Otter (Old Lady) are all convincing with Thomas Allen an ironic and assured narrator. From the snappy overture's opening onward this live recording sparkles.
Norman Stinchcombe

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