In the Cello Sonata stakes, the Grieg and Mendelssohn are perennials, the latter a masterpiece. Steven Isserlis and Stephen Hough give it a superb outing, the confident and memory-haunting opening melody finding both musicians in top form, irrepressible really, and a true duo, something reflected in the well-balanced and tangible sound. Mendelssohn’s genius invention flies by, Isserlis conjuring many tonal hues and dynamic variances, Hough sparkling and rock-like for his friend. The D major Sonata is a great piece (like so much Mendelssohn). Huge energy informs the first movement, wit and whimsy the second, depth of feeling the Adagio, introduced by a lengthy piano solo to preface a richly romantic cello, at the close of which the finale fierily enters, Mendelssohn ‘off’ once again with plenty of passion and tunes-a-plenty.
Opening the disc is Grieg. His Sonata begins dramatically if soon finding calmer waters, very much a ‘lyric piece’, before becoming impassioned again—both musicians going for it, unfazed by the red light of the studio and the strictures of recording. The lovely ‘tranquil’ slow movement is given with sensitivity and eloquence, and the extensive finale with flexibility and variety.
Hough’s own 20-minute Cello Sonata was composed to Isserlis’s request and specifically for a pianist unable (then) to use his right hand. It’s a capricious work, first given in October 2013, playing continuously if in three sections, intensely voluble and, at times, with a sense of regret: hence the sub-titular link to Beethoven’s Opus 81a. It’s a fine piece, very pleased to know it, closing with an Adagio sereno that is rather lonely if very touching. Hough’s Sonata is central to a very recommendable release.