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Elgar: Cello Concerto; Bloch: Schelomo / Isserlis, Hickox

Release Date: 10/11/1994 
Label:  Virgin Classics Special Import Catalog #: 61125   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Sir Edward ElgarErnest Bloch
Performer:  Steven Isserlis
Conductor:  Richard Hickox
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 51 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Cellists are apt to 'come of age' in recordings of the Elgar. Isserlis is no exception. This is a wonderful account of the Concerto—brave, imaginative, individual—indeed, quite the most personal in its perception of the piece that I've encountered since the treasurable Du Pre on EMI. And that, you will appreciate, is saying something though not, I hasten to add, that the two readings are in any outward sense similar. Far from it. With Isserlis, the emotional tug is considerably less overt, the emphasis more on shadow and subtext than open heartache. Yet the inner-light is no less intense, the phrasing no less rhapsodic in manner than Du Pre. On the contrary. This is free-range Elgar alright, and like Du Pre it comes totally without Read more affectation.

Both Isserlis and Du Pre (indeed, Lloyd Webber on Philips and Yo-Yo Ma on CBS, too—each of which has fine qualities) take an appropriately generous line on the first movement's sorrowful song, with Isserlis the more reposeful, the more inclined to open out and savour key cadences. The markings espressivo or sostenuto invariably bring an appreciable give in the phrasing; Elgar's ritardando and largamente bars truly 'breathe the air': there are instances at either side of fig. 13, for example, or the come prima at fig. 14 (track 1, 6'17''), where Isserlis conjures a moment or two of rare poignancy, holding back for that fraction of a second longer over the tenuto B natural (as if momentarily choked with emotion), the tone wonderfully withdrawn. Moments later, at the extraordinary transition into the scherzo, he achieves a memorable stillness in and around those arpeggiated pizzicato chords: Elgar lost in very private thoughts.

The scherzo itself is quite simply better played than I've ever heard it, the articulation and definition of the semiquaver 'fours' would, I'm sure have astonished even the composer himself. In the adagio where any hint of overlayed emotion can so easily throw off-balance the perfect simplicity and brevity of the movement, I for one very much appreciate Isserlis's durable modesty and grace. The music really does dictate the phrasing, one feels, and so much intensity is generated in the truth of the intonation alone. As I say, from a technical point of view he is easily the equal, and more, of any player currently before us. The deftness of his work in the scherzo is once again much in evidence in the middle section of the finale where Falstaffian swagger and good humour go hand in hand. And if you still feel that Du Pre really did have the last word where the epilogue is concerned, listen to Isserlis sinking with heavy heart into those pages preceding the return of the opening declamation. He achieves a mesmerizing fragility in the bars marked lento one last backward glance, as it were—and the inwardness of the final diminuendo is something to be heard and remembered.

Hickox and the LSO (the orchestra on the Du Pre/Barbirolli and Ma/Previn versions) prove model collaborators. Listen to the way in which their first solo—clarinets, bassoons and horn in bar five of the piece—is through-phrased: lovely cresc./dim., the ensuing string chord beautifully 'placed'. Thanks also to an impeccably balanced recording, the integration, the give and take between soloist and orchestra in one of Elgar's most perfectly crafted scores, is seamless.

The coupling takes me back to Fournier and Wallenstein with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1967. No one has since adopted it—until now. It almost goes without saying that the LSO bring all their well-oiled filmic skills to bear on the outrageous biblical climaxes of Bloch's soulful King Solomon portrait; trumpets and horns positively outreach themselves. Isserlis does not stint himself either, pouring forth his darkest and most impassioned colours, and the big Watford Town Hall acoustic opens out splendidly to accommodate it all—the bass extension particularly impressive when the bass drum makes its presence felt. And I mean 'felt'. I have one quibble about the sound: specifically its dynamic range. One needs to set the volume level unusually high in order to achieve best results in the middle to low dynamics, which then puts the climaxes at one notch beyond overwhelming. Take heed on that count, then, but don't on any account miss these performances. It could be that my predictions come a little late in the day—but watch Steven Isserlis. He has a big future.

-- Edward Seckerson, Gramophone [7/1989]
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Cello in E minor, Op. 85 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Steven Isserlis (Cello)
Conductor:  Richard Hickox
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1919; England 
Date of Recording: 07/1988 
Venue:  Watford Town Hall, London 
Length: 28 Minutes 55 Secs. 
Schelomo by Ernest Bloch
Performer:  Steven Isserlis (Cello)
Conductor:  Richard Hickox
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915-1916; USA 
Date of Recording: 07/1988 
Venue:  Watford Town Hall, London 
Length: 21 Minutes 45 Secs. 

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