Saturday, May 05, 2007

Steven Isserlis's Russian Program

SHOSTAKOVICH: Sonata, Op. 40
RUBINSTEIN: Sonata No. 1, Op. 18
GLAZUNOV: Two Pieces, Op. 20
PROKOFIEV: Sonata, Op. 119

Thursday night I heard cellist Steven Isserlis's Russian program at Herbst Theatre. I've never heard him before, but at least visually he is a pretty unmistakable performer. He has a huge mop of long curly hair, somewhat like Evgeny Kissin. He tends to look around while he plays, sometimes appearing to stare straight out into the audience. He also has a peculiar mannerism of occasionally flipping his left hand up & open at the end of a phrase.

He doesn't seem to have a big or weighty sound. Instead, his playing is very clean & adroit. Even when Shostakovich has him doing all sorts of wild strumming, sliding, pizzicato, or tearing through rapid passages, the sound was always precise & clear. He's a tasteful performer.

The program was 2 weighty pieces sandwiching the relatively lighter pieces of Rubinstein & Glazunov. Before the Rubinstein, Isserlis spoke a few words about the composer's huge stature in his day, then commented that we were about to hear why this piece is unknown today. He finds the piece old-fashion yet still enjoyable. The piece also gave our page-turner extra duties. During a cadenza passage for the cellist, she stood up, walked carefully around the pianist, turned Mr. Isserlis's page for him, then returned to her seat.

The accompanist was the very young Kirill Gerstein, whose similarly precise & clear playing, complemented & supported Isserlis very well. As an encore they did a lyrical piece by Rachmaninoff, which Isserlis said is probably his earliest known piece.

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