Shostakovich & Kabalevsky: Cello Sonatas (CD)

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Steven Isserlis, Olli Mustonen

Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen play Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata in D Minor – deemed as ‘the most popular cello sonata of the twentieth century’ - alongside two other Russian masterpieces, from pre-revolutionary Prokofiev to Kabalevsky in the Khrushchev era.

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Gramophone Magazine

February 2019 Editor's Choice

"Isserlis and Mustonen make a strong case for [the Kabalevsky] in a performance of grand gestures that proves a real roller coaster ride. Isserlis’s intensity and Mustonen’s pianistic weight suit the piece wonderfully well...The Shostakovich Sonata, in contrast, seems spacious and ruminative, particularly when placed beside Rostropovich’s performances with Britten at Aldeburgh...The shorter pieces are also superbly done."

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Kabalevsky: Cello Sonata in B flat, Op. 71

Prokofiev: Adagio for cello & piano (from Cinderella), Op. 97bis

Prokofiev: Ballade for Cello and Piano in C minor, Op. 15

Shostakovich: Cello Sonata in D minor, Op. 40

Shostakovich: Moderato in A minor for cello & piano

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Russian chamber music brought to life by two superb musicians



This gripping recital covers 20th century Russian music for cello and piano, beginning chronologically with Serge Prokofiev’s early Ballade of 1912, via Shostakovich's Sonata, and ends rather neatly with Dmitri Kabalevsky’s Rondo in Memory of Prokofiev from 1965. The cello figured prominently in all three composers’ outputs, mainly because Russia produced one of the world’s great cellists in Mstislav Rostropovich.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata was composed in 1934, a year when his first marriage was heading for divorce and he was about to fall spectacularly out of favour with Stalin. (Shostakovich and his wife Nina did divorce, but then remarried. Stalin’s condemnation had more far-reaching consequences.) In four movements, the sonata is one of his best early works. The first movement has a compelling lyrical flow; the savage 'Allegro' movement is reminiscent of similar movements in the symphonies, while the concluding allegro by contrast is perky and ironic.

Kabalevsky’s Sonata, written for Rostropovich in 1962, is one of his most serious and sincerely felt compositions (along with the Second Cello Concerto of two years later). In three movements, the work opens and closes with a bell motif and a troubled cello theme that is answered by a chorale from the piano. There is a nostalgic feel to the second movement, a scherzo using pizzicato, and the rapid, frenzied finale almost gets out of control before the gentle music of the opening reappears.

British cellist Steven Isserlis and Finnish pianist Olli Mustonen have performed as a duo for over three decades. Mustonen’s remarkable clarity of touch and Isserlis’s elegance work beautifully together. Listen to their synergy in the finale of the Shostakovich sonata, or their complementary strengths in the first movement of the Kabalevsky, where Mustonen’s calming piano contrasts with Isserlis’s yearning cello. Prokofiev’s Adagio “Cinderella and the Prince”, arranged for cello and piano by the composer from his ballet Cinderella, is ideal for Isserlis with its long lyrical phrases.

Say no more: this disc is simply unmissable. 5 STARS