Schumann: Music for cello and piano: Soiréestücke, Op. 73; Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70; Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor (arr. Isserlis); Abendlied, Op. 85/12 (arr. Joachim); Drei Romanzen, Op. 94; Fünf Stücke

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Music for cello and piano: Soiréestücke, Op. 73; Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70; Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor (arr. Isserlis); Abendlied, Op. 85/12 (arr. Joachim); Drei Romanzen, Op. 94; Fünf Stücke
PERFORMER: Steven Isserlis (cello), Dénes Várjon (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67661

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The really exciting performance here is Steven Isserlis’s transcription of Schumann’s valedictory Third Violin Sonata: it’s as if he’s been preparing all his life to launch into its dark storm. This fabulously virtuosic and psychologically complex work forces his musicianship up to a new level.

It’s full of fiendish passages, lying extremely awkwardly on the instrument, but, even in the Finale, Isserlis masters these explosive flourishes and has the vital impetus to make an eccentric work feel whole. His mischievous defence for transcribing it is that ‘violinists so rarely play [it] they have only themselves to blame if cellists steal it!’ and he was also driven by the need for ‘recompense’ after Clara’s destruction of her husband’s late cello Romances (I fear for the safety of Frau Schumann the day Isserlis enters the pearly gates).

Dénes Várjon is an intriguing choice of pianist. He lacks the extreme sophistication of Stephen Hough and can sound heavy, but perhaps his direct, uncluttered approach gives Isserlis the space to explore the more challenging regions of the work – and to dominate the interpretation.

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It was a shock to compare this to my formerly favourite version by Isabelle Faust and Silke Avenhaus (CPO), which suddenly feels four-square and almost disjointed besides the sweeping energy and burning conviction displayed here. The Stücke im Volkston and Fantasiestücke are, by contrast, gems of subtle understatement. Helen Wallace