All products and recordings are chosen independently by our editorial team. This review contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made. Please read our affiliates FAQ page to find out more.

Cello sonatas by Kabalevsky, Prokofiev & Shostakovich

Steven Isserlis & Olli Mustonen (Hyperion)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Kabalevsky Cello Sonata; Rondo in Memory of Prokofiev; Prokofiev Ballade in C; Cinderella – Adagio; Shostakovich Cello Sonata; Moderato in A minor
Steven Isserlis (cello), Olli Mustonen (piano)
Hyperion CDA 68239
76:33 mins


This superb and thought-provoking programme presents mostly lesser-known works by three Russian composers – two of them among the greatest, and a third whose reputation has been sullied by his apparent close collaboration with the Soviet authorities. As Steven Isserlis writes in his booklet note, Dmitri Kabalevsky is resented to the point of fury by those who lived under the Soviet regime; yet the British cellist has long admired his ‘powerful and striking’ music. Certainly Isserlis and his long-term colleague Olli Mustonen make a compelling case for Kabalevsky’s Cello Sonata, finding such expressive drama that for once I was not distracted by the Sonata’s obvious cribs from Shostakovich and Debussy. Indeed, why should one be? The Fauré-like opening of the Shostakovich Sonata which opens the disc is just as disconcerting, though Shostakovich does do some chilling transformations of that theme – rather more fully realised in other performances, admittedly, including a superb live recording by Rostropovich and the composer himself.

Still, Isserlis and Mustonen are themselves extraordinary musicians, and both clearly believe in the music they are performing. Prokofiev’s Ballade, a relatively early and still much underestimated work, emerges as quintessential, very much in the febrile world of his Second Piano Concerto. Most extraordinary of all is Kabalevsky’s Rondo in Memory of Prokofiev. Here a theme which sounds as if taken from one of Prokofiev’s official Soviet works is contrasted with anguished musical reflections – a sincere and truly great work in an outstanding performance.


Daniel Jaffé