RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Romance oubliée, S132 (1880) [3:42]
Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth, S382 (1883?) [5:35]
Die Trauergondel (La lugubre gondola), S134 (1882-85) [8:09]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Pohádka (A Tale) (1910, rev. 1923) [11:56]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 117 (1921) [18:53]
György KURTÁG (b. 1926)
For Steven: In Memoriam Pauline Mara (2010) [3:15]
Pilinszky János: Gérard de Nerval (1984) [1:35]
Schatten (1999) [0:59]
György Kroó in memoriam (1997) [5:14]
Thomas ADÈS (b. 1971)
Lieux retrouvés (2009) [17:21]
Steven Isserlis (cello); Thomas Adès (piano)
rec. Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, UK, 13-15 December 2011. DDD
HYPERION CDA67948 [76:44]
Having just returned from a live “digital” performance of The
Tempest by the Met Opera in a local cinema, my admiration for the works
of Thomas Adès continues to grow. For me he has inherited Benjamin Britten’s
mantle for musical drama. These thoughts come to mind as I am listening to his
wonderful Lieux retrouvés for cello and piano, clearly the highlight
of this collection. Yet, the whole programme, from beginning to end, captivates.
There is plenty of variety, but at the same time a commonality in that all the
composers represented here have been important in Adès’s musical
The Liszt pieces are arrangements the composer made from his songs, the first
two from much earlier in his career. Those are typically romantic, very lyrical
and intimate, while the third is more austere and funereal, as its subject would
suggest. Death in fact is found not only in this piece but also in the slow
movement of Fauré’s Second Sonata, originally a funeral march to
commemorate the centenary of Napoleon’s death, and in the Kurtág
memorials. This is not to say that there is anything morbid about these works.
The Fauré, for example, is cut from the same cloth as his Requiem
and Pavane. Steven Isserlis and Thomas Adès capture the various
moods of these works to perfection.
This is not the first time Isserlis has recorded the Janáček Pohádka.
He recorded it earlier for RCA with Olli Mustonen as pianist. That disc also
contained an alternate version of the piece based on an earlier manuscript and
including the separate Presto movement sometimes added to the three standard
ones. Here we get the standard work, a sonata in all but name. The differences
in interpretation between these accounts are startling, however. With Adès
as pianist, the new version seems warmer and smoother, yet lacking nothing in
character, and is better integrated between the piano and cello. With Mustonen,
we get a more modern, percussive account. As is common with this pianist, the
sound is brittle and not as well integrated with the cello. The dramatic side
of the work is emphasized, whereas with Adès it is the lyrical that is
dominant. I don’t want to make too much of this, because both accounts
are convincing in their different ways. I happen now to prefer the new version,
but over time that could change. Adès has demonstrated a real affinity
for Janáček’s music in other recordings, too, as in his accompaniment
to Ian Bostridge in The Diary of One Who Disappeared for EMI Classics.
That disc included several of the composer’s solo piano works as well.
Of the four Kurtág works, three are in memory of others and the most
recent was written for Isserlis in response to the death of his wife Pauline.
All four pieces are for solo cello and are typical of the composer in their
concentration and introspection. The second one, Pilinszky János:
Gérard de Nerval, was inspired by a poem of Pilinszky about the suicide
of the nineteenth-century French poet, Gérard de Nerval, while the last
in the sequence was written in memory of a Hungarian musicologist. This one
and Schatten (Shadows) become barely audible, as the music is reduced
to its essentials.
All of the above works lead to the astonishing new composition of Adès,
Lieux retrouvés, which can be freely translated as “places
revisited”. Each movement depicts a certain place. Les eaux begins
the work with the waters being calm and the piano playing rippling figures under
the lyrical cello line. The cello becomes dramatic before long and the water
turbulent. The second movement, La montagne, starts with the cello’s
pizzicato, much the way the first movement ended, and then is increasingly dramatic
with the piano part reminiscent of a Ligeti etude in its abrupt, jumping lines.
This leads then to a quiet cello part played very high on the bridge. It sounds
like a cross between whispering and whistling until everything comes down with
a crash. Isserlis writes in the notes to the CD that he was worried that this
depicted a mountaineer’s fall, but was reassured by the composer that
it only meant the planting of the flag at the top! The third movement, Les
champs, couldn’t be of greater contrast. It is a simple, beautiful
song, which more than anything reminds me of something Leonard Bernstein could
have written-except for the modulations and occasional dissonance. Les champs
depicts a peaceful field at night with the animals asleep. It, too, requires
the cellist to play extremely softly in the highest range, so that by the time
it ends it is barely audible. After this the finale, La ville: Cancan macabre
explodes with the city life at night fitting the description of the can-can.
Isserlis describes this movement as “nothing short of fiendish”
and technically the most difficult piece he had to learn. It ends the work in
rousing style. There is no doubt about it we have here a major addition to the
cello/piano repertoire, one that could appear on any respected programme of
modern chamber music. The performance here is authoritative.
As the performances and sound leave nothing to be desired, so does Hyperion’s
presentation. Monet’s Le Palais da Mula is on the booklet cover.
Isserlis’s detailed and colorful notes include conversations between Adès
and himself and are interspersed throughout the booklet.
A wonderful programme containing a stunning new work by Adès for cello