Helen Wallace
BBC Music Magazine
February 2016

It's no surprise, perhaps, that Steven Isserlis's latest reading of the Elgar concerto should be special: this is a long-loved, lived-in interpretation in which every superfluity has been scoured away leaving only an extraordinarily pure line of expression. He—and Paavo Järvi—steer a course between the astringent dynamism of Elgar's own reading, tender intimacy and the grand passion of Jacqueline du Pré. Ensemble is hand-in-glove, wind solos eloquent. The scherzo has plenty of attack, the Adagio is almost unbearably poignant while Isserlis's finale explodes into life with a bristling humour and rhythmic vitality all-too rare.

Susanna Walton always identified her husband's cello concerto with his own personality and Isserlis captures that unique mix of laconic charm, melancholy and ruthlessness. Occasionally one misses a more open sound in the soaring luminescence of the first moderato, more clarity in the orchestral recording, and the scherzo doesn't quite take wing. He comes into his own in the challenging variations: the first goes at a shivering lick, the two cadenzas are brilliantly dramatised, while a resplendent finale achieves a real sense of homecoming, his high cantilenas burning with a white light. But the ferocious orchestral toccata doesn’t make the dry, explosive impact of Edward Garner's recent recording with BBC Symphony Orchestra and Paul Watkins (Chandos).

Isserlis revels in the myriad textures of Imogen Holst's haunting, solo Fall of the Leaf, an enchanting quietly substantial suite. In his youth Isserlis inspired Imogen to revive her father's elusive Invocation: this mesmerising meditation couldn't be in better hands.