Discography

 

Beethoven Sonatas and Variations

“Recording the greatest works ever composed for Beethoven cello sonatascello and piano is quite a challenge! Although I have played most of the sonatas for more years than I care to remember, it was not until comparatively recently that I became utterly engulfed, entranced, ensnared and enchanted (as well as lets of other words beginning with ‘en’ – but you get the point) by Beethoven. I can’t really pinpoint any moment at which I had an epiphany, and realized that this music had become one of the most important things in life for me – although performing the cycle with Robert Levin for the first time almost ten years ago was certainly a step in that direction. It’s a cliché, but a true one, that Beethoven tends to become more and more important in a musician’s life as he or she grows older. My friend, the much-missed John Tavener, always resisted Beethoven furiously – until his last years when, in frailty and pain, the late quartets became a real lifeline to him.

Playing Beethoven fills me with a joy I find hard to describe. There is a strength to his music, a radiance of spirit, that is like nothing else. The late sonatas are of course the most profound and moving of these cello and piano (or, more accurately, piano and cello) pieces; but the world would be very much poorer without the earlier works, too. The might of Beethoven’s soul permeates every note of all these works. And the glorious A major sonata, the only work from this collection to date from his ‘middle’ period, is a perfect masterpiece.

I was lucky enough to perform the whole cycle with the great performer and scholar Robert Levin five times in the run-up to these recording sessions. We rehearsed and rehearsed – and didn’t stop discussing (and occasionally arguing!) throughout the recording sessions. I HOPE that all this work paid off – that is for the listener to decide. Robert played on a wonderful McNulty copy of an 1805 Walter fortepiano. Of course, for those used to a modern piano, the sound may come as a surprise; but I urge you to keep listening to it. It is not so much the historical accuracy of the sound that convinces me; it is more the clarity, the purity, and the sheer unbridled passion that can be released, without the worry of drowning the cellist that must inhibit every player on a modern instrument. I still enjoy playing these sonatas with modern piano (well, any excuse to play Beethoven is welcome!); but playing with this fortepiano was a different experience, and one that I loved.”

 

Julius Isserlis: Piano Music

“Although my only contribution to this disc was to Julius Isserlis piano musicrecord one 9-minute piece on this disc, it is a project close to my heart – not surprisingly. The music, of course, is by my grandfather; the producer was my oldest sister Annette; and the sleeve-notes are by our middle sister Rachel. A family affair, in fact.  Furthermore, Sam Haywood, whose disc it is, was a favourite pianist of our late father; and his wife Sophia runs this website!

We are very grateful to Sam for falling in love with these pieces, and playing them so persuasively. Everybody who has heard this recording so far seems to have been utterly charmed. The pieces are melodious, warm-hearted and beautifully crafted – and oh, SO Russian! I was always told what a wonderful man Julius was – and one can hear it in this music.”

 

Dvorák: Cello Concertos

Dvorak

“I first started learning the great Dvorak concerto at the age of 12 (to my father’s horror! He thought that by attempting it too early I’d ruin any chance I might have of playing it properly one day) and then performed it at the age of 14. But I’ve put off recording it for many years – well, it is the most famous of all cello concertos, so I was right to be wary. But finally I’ve taken the plunge – all I can say, really, is that I hope that people like it! It is one of the most moving and glorious of concertos for any instrument, and has given me so much joy over the years. Also – as a little boy, I was fascinated by the fact that Dvorak had written an earlier concerto; when the Gunther Raphael version (much revised from the original, but to my mind judiciously so) was republished in the late 70s, I eagerly snapped up a copy, and spent my first semester at Oberlin College learning it. Of course it’s not a rival to the great concerto – but it’s a charmer in its own right: warm-hearted, tuneful and loveable. I’m very pleased to have made what seems to be the premiere recording of this version; I hope that other cellists take it up.”

 

7318599919928In the Shadow of War

“This was a disc on which I got to re-record, after some 25 years (gulp), two wonderful works inspired – if that’s the word – by World War 1. Bloch’s Schelomo is the more famous of the two, with its innovative use of Jewish idioms creating a vast, impassioned musical epic. Frank Bridge’s Oration, though, is equally masterly, in its more austere way. I’m glad that I got the chance in the sleeve-notes to set out my personal view of this tragic masterpiece; I can’t understand why it’s not played more often – in its way, it is as great a work, I think, as the Elgar concerto. The disc is completed by a beautiful piece, also rooted in WW1, by my great friend, the irrepressible Mr Hough.”

 

Lieux retrouvés

“Thomas Adès is a phenomenon: unbelievably gifted composer, wonderful conductor, and amazing pianist. It’s really not fair AT ALL. But still, I was delighted to make this disc with him, of his own irresistible (and hideously difficult!) new piece for cello and piano, Lieux retrouvés, and works by composers who have influenced him: Liszt, Janáček, Fauré and Kurtág. I have been lucky enough to work extensively with the great Hungarian composer  Gyorgy Kurtág over many years, and have learnt so much from him (as has Thomas). I am happy to have recorded here four of his miniature masterpieces for solo cello.”

 

reVisions

Steven Isserlis with the Tapiola Sinfonietta and Gabor Takacs-Nagy

“This was a very personal project for me in many ways, partly because all of these transcriptions
were made at my request. They range from Sally Beamish’s witty and charming reconstruction of a
lost Debussy suite for cello, to a set of pieces I find as touching as anything written for the cello,
Bloch’s suite ‘From Jewish Life’.”

 

Schumann: Music for cello and piano

‘For all that Isserlis has made many wonderful recordings, not least his seminal Bach suites, I think this might just be his finest yet’

(Gramophone)

“Even I don’t quite understand why I’m SO obsessed with Schumann – but I am! I love everything about him, and virtually every note he composed. He is Denes’s most beloved composer too, so it seemed natural for us to do a new disc of all his works for cello and piano, and some arrangements – including my labour-of-love transcription of his rarely-heard third violin sonata, a work which remained unpublished until 100 years after Schumann’s death. An added bonus (for me) for this recording was that I was lucky enough to have two Strad cellos available for it, the ‘De Munck’ and the ‘Marquis de Coberon’. I divided the pieces pretty evenly between them; it would take a VERY sharp pair of ears to differentiate between them, though.”

 

Bach: Suites for Solo Cello

 

 

“I finally dared do it…”

Brahms: Cello Sonatas with Stephen Hough

“Having not recorded for 2 years or so, it felt very good to go back into the studio with Stephen and to revisit repertoire that I first recorded 21 years ago – groan. It’s always so wonderful to play with Stephen, on a personal as well as a musical level. Good also to record the Dvorak pieces (we actually recorded his Polonaise as well, but unfortunately discovered subsequently that it couldn’t fit onto the disc) and the little gems by Suk.”

 

Saint-Saens: Cello Concertos Nos. 1 and 2

With the London Symphony Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas

La Muse et el Poete – with Joshua Bell, violin
Suite for Cello and Orchestra Op. 16 with NDR Sinfonieorchester and Christoph Eschenbach.

“This is mostly reissues; but I was glad, several years after it was recorded and edited, BMG managed to locate and then issue the Saint-Saens Suite, Op. 16. At one stage, they seemed to have lost the tapes! It’s a lovely piece.”

 

Rachmaninov/Franck Sonatas:

 

“I first started playing the Rachmaninov Sonata when I was about 11 and used to play it with my Russian Grandmother. She remembered perfectly the performances gave with Brandukov, the work’s dedicatee, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I feel a close affinity to this work.”

Cello World

A selection of short pieces for cello and arrangements, with Thomas Ades, Dame Felicity Lott, Maggie Cole, Michael Tilson Thomas, Dudley Moore

“Well, I did enjoy making this disc, with so many friends; this is the one I usually give to people I like! And it’s full of my son’s favourite cello pieces, which for me is quite an added attraction.”

 

Schumann

Cello Concerto, works for cello and piano, ‘Offertorium’ from Mass in C minor; Bargiel: Adagio, with Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Christoph Eschenbach, Dame Felicity Lott, David King

‘Being a Schumann nut, I thought long and hard about recording the cello concerto – and I’m glad to say that I found the perfect partners in the DK and Christoph Eschenbach. Also, it was very nice to be able to include a piece by Schumann’s brother-in-law, Bargiel – good to keep it in the family.’

 

Brahms/Frühling/Schumann

Trios for clarinet, cello and piano, with Michael Collins and Stephen Hough

‘See my “enthusiasms” for my feelings about Mr. Frühling – it was a real thrill to be making the first-ever commercial recording of his music; and Messrs. Collins and Hough are among my most frequent partners in musical crime – so I’m happy that this recording exists.’

 

Elgar / Bloch / Kabalevsky / Tchaikovsky / R. Strauss

Works with orchestra, with various orchestras and conductors

‘A slightly mixed bag – but it’s cheap, and the pieces are great! The Kabalevsky is a

thrilling concerto, I think – I don’t understand why it’s so rarely played.’

Faure: Complete Works for Cello, with Pascal Devoyon

‘I love Faure so much! Pascal and I recorded a lot of this repertoire for Hyperion, but I was very disappointed with the result, partly because of poor sound; this BMG recording is a huge improvement, I think. For me, the sonatas are among the greatest works for the cello.’

 

Haydn

Cello Concertos, Sinfonia Concertante, Adagio cantabile, with soloists, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Sir Roger Norrington

‘This one actually sold some copies!  Wonders never cease. I love Haydn’s freshness and humour – what a marvellous man he must have been.’

Janácek / Prokofiev / Shostakovich

Works for cello and piano, with Olli Mustonen

‘It’s always exciting to play with my friend Olli Mustonen – and doubly so in this case, because we were making the first recording of the first version of Janacek’s “Fairy-Tale” ‘

Saint-Saëns

Concerto for Cello No. 2 / La Muse et le Poete / Romance / Cello Sonata No. 2, with ‘Joshua Bell, NDR Orchstra, Christoph Eschenbach

‘Little-known music by Saint-Saëns -  all of it is beautiful, but the real gem is the piece for violin, cello and orchestra, “La Muse et le Poete”. It was great that Joshua Bell was transferred from Sony for that one piece!’

Strauss

Don Quixote, Romance, Cello Sonata, with Stephen Hough, Symphonieorchester des BR, Maazel

‘I had never met Maazel before these sessions took place, so I was nervous – but he couldn’t have been more charming! It was a really enjoyable experience. And an added luxury, of course, to record the sonata with the wonderful Stephen Hough -  even though he mis-spells his own first name.’

Tavener

The Protecting Veil, Thrinos, Britten: Suite no.3, with LSO, Rozhdestvensky

‘This was called a ‘cult’ recording – hmmm… not by me. For me, “the Protecting Veil”, even without the religious programme, is a gorgeous, romantic piece of music; the first performance was one of the highlights of my concert life – so exciting to realise that the work had captured people’s imaginations.’