Isserlis plays Shostakovich

IsserlisProkofiev: Sinfonietta
Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1
Haydn: Symphony No. 104 ‘London’


Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amyn Merchant
Kirill Karabits: Conductor
Stephen Isserlis: Cello


CELLIST Steven Isserlis is a regular soloist with the BSO. He has enormous charisma and presence, and an enthusiastic full house saw him give an intense and dramatic performance of Shostakovich’s fiendishly demanding First Cello Concerto.

A clever piece of programming linked Shostakovich’s twentieth-century modernism to Haydn’s eighteenth-century classicism. Prokofiev’s neo-classical Sinfonietta bridged the gap, using something like Haydn’s forms and structure with something like Shostakovich’s sound and colours.

The Prokofiev piece, recorded by the orchestra a couple of years ago as part of the complete cycle for Oryx ( is engaging, light and undemanding, with playfulness generally taking the lead over drama. The conductor and orchestra were utterly at home in this music, and the piece served admirably as an appetiser for what was to come.

Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto is a work which communicates directly and excitingly. The first movement is based on an instantly memorable four-note theme which is obsessively developed by the soloist and chamber-sized orchestra. This is followed by a slow movement where ethereal, ghostly sounds are produced by the soloist at the top of the cello’s range, duetting with a celesta. In the following cadenza, Isserlis was at times whirlwind of flying bow and tossing grey mane, communicating the music’s drama with his whole presence and not just through the sounds. Karabits held the piece together unobtrusively and effectively, marshalling telling contributions from wind and horn soloists as well as the solemn punctuation of timpani blows.

It was wonderful to have a Haydn symphony given such prominence in the programme. Occupying the whole of the second half of the concert, this was very much the main course rather than a starter. It was good to see Isserlis unassumingly join the audience to enjoy it. Haydn’s uniquely sane and genial music never fails to engage the listener and lift the spirits. This was a lovingly-polished performance by Karabits, who gave us the composer’s ‘Creation’ oratorio early in his tenure but has since perhaps rather neglected him. The break-neck tempi in the last two movements will have lifted a few eyebrows, but the rapturous reception from the packed audience should have given a clear message to the BSO’s programmers: more Haydn, please, much more!



Posted in Reviews on .