In 1989 the young pianist Sam Haywood was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Julius Isserlis Scholarship. Years later, having become friends with Julius’s grandson Steven, Sam came across some of Julius’s piano compositions in a drawer at the house of George, Julius’s son. The editions were unclear and full of printing errors; so, struck by the beauty of the music, Sam decided to make his own edition, the fruits of which are to be heard on this recording.
Julius Isserlis was born in 1888 in Kishinev (now Chisinau in Moldova, though then part of Russia). He studied with, among others, Taneyev and Widor. As a Jew, he was exiled from Moscow, escaped from Vienna in 1938 and spent the rest of his life in London.
Isserlis’s greatest passion was for the music of Frédéric Chopin, who seems to have been his strongest influence. Nevertheless, his music retains its own very distinctive voice. Many of the short pieces are in minor keys and are pervaded by a yearning melancholy reminiscent of Slavic songs and folk dances. The playful virtuosity of several of the works is an indication not only of Isserlis’s own agility on the keyboard but also of that of their dedicatees (including Pablo Casals, who inspired the Ballade for cello and piano for which Sam Haywood is here joined by Steven Isserlis).