Helen Wallace
BBC Music Magazine
June 2015

If any reminder were needed that Steven Isserlis is at the top of his game this is it. I was recently impressed by Andreas Brantelid and Christian Ihle Hadland's fresh Grieg Sonata set in an imaginative Scandinavian programme (BIS, reviewed May 2015). Steven Isserlis and Stephen Hough move things up to another level of intensity and technical command. Their opening Allegro agitato is a thrilling tour de force, Isserlis sinewy and febrile, Hough's sound lucid and full-bodied with an ideal recorded balance. Hough is silken in the Andante, but perhaps Brantelid creates a more spacious frame in the third movement prelude. A sense of vulnerability is rarely in evidence in Isserlis's masterly line, except in that extraordinarily lonely prelude to this Allegro molto, and he brings an exquisite, covered sweetness to the soulful second theme. Hough isn't quote so impetuous as Hadland here but, like Isserlis, hyper-articulate in every step of its whirling dance.

Isserlis's 1994 recording of Mendelssohn Sonatas with Melvyn Tan (RCA) is a particular favourite; with Hough, again, No 2 takes on a more expansive grandeur. Warmth and generosity drive the first movement, the slow movement becomes a profound utterance, while the Scherzo is a miracle of limpid intimacy. The fact that Hough's own sonata Les adieux is written for cello and pianist's left-hand is ingeniously masked. There are intriguing ideas, a seductive Allegretto placido and a Messaien-like finale; but 20 minutes feels longer.