ALBUM TITLE: Martinu: Cello Sonatas 1-3
WORKS: Martinu: Cello Sonatas Nos 1-3; Mustonen: Cello Sonata; Sibelius: Malinconia, Op. 20
PERFORMER: Steven Isserlis (cello), Olli Mustonen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2042 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Martin∞’s three Cello Sonatas cover a broad emotional range. The First was composed in 1939 at a time of turmoil as Martin∞ saw his native Czechoslovakia falling into the hands of the Nazis. The outer movements share the urgency of his Concerto for double string orchestra, timpani and strings, though with a more whimsical accent. The slow movement, one of his finest, is spectral and visionary. Composed two years later, in New York, the Second Sonata is nervy, but suffused with the lyricism that marks the expansive Second Cello Concerto. Although it was written in memory of a friend, the Third Cello Sonata of 1952 is marvellously celebratory, with one of Martin∞’s most infectious finales.
Interspersing the Martin∞ sonatas are Mustonen’s own Cello Sonata – a reflective and elegant work not a million miles away from Martin∞’s soundworld – and Sibelius’s emotional Malinconia.
These are performances to treasure and comprise the finest renditions of the Martin∞ Sonatas I have come across. Oddly enough, the main competition is from Isserlis himself, in a fine recording with Peter Evans from 1989. I find the feeling for the structure and drama in these works is more completely realised in this new release, and the recorded sound is better. There is a profound understanding and sympathy for Martin∞’s melodic and rhythmic idiom – just listen to the sprung rhythms in the first movement of the Second Sonata, contrasting with the lyricism of its slow movement, and the unforgettably joyous finale of the Third Sonata.