Strauss: Don Quixote; Romance in F; Cello Sonata in F, Op. 6

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COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Don Quixote; Romance in F; Cello Sonata in F, Op. 6
PERFORMER: Steven Isserlis (cello), Stephen Hough (piano); Bavarian RSO/Lorin Maazel
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 75398 2
Strauss wrote that Don Quixote and Ein Heldenleben ‘were so very much conceived as direct pendants that especially Don Quixote becomes fully and completely understandable only next to Heldenleben’. Steven Isserlis (who first encountered Cervantes’s ‘Knight of Rueful Countenance’ a decade ago, when he recorded the work for Virgin with the Minnesota Orchestra under Edo de Waart) understands just what Strauss meant, encouraging deep contemplation of the Don’s internalised conflicts in this magnificent remake with Lorin Maazel and the Bavarian RSO. Impeccably delivered, it offers stunning solo cello-playing, with equally fine contributions from an uncredited Sancho Panza (viola) and from the orchestra’s concertmaster. Maazel’s characterisations of the duo’s adventures seem exemplary; sample Var. 2’s bleating sheep, or the ecclesiastical tedium of bassoons masquerading as monks in Var. 9.

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Isserlis provides unusually fertile insights into this score, which he addresses with an eloquence and pathos unequalled since Pierre Fournier recorded Don Quixote with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, and with Karajan and the Berliners. Among newer versions, both John Sharp’s lively portrayal with fellow Chicago Symphony principals under Barenboim on Teldec, and Franz Bartolomey’s empathetic Previn/VPO version (Telarc) must now yield to Isserlis, who presents Cervantes’s quirkily lovable anti-hero in glowingly affectionate terms. Not even Fournier evinced the tear-jerking image of the elderly knight’s vigil over his rusty armour and slumbering servant while dreaming of the unattainable (and imaginary!) Lady Dulcinea (Var. 5) more hauntingly than this. With equally impressive accounts of the Cello Sonata and Romance in F, this is a remarkably astute survey of Strauss’s works for cello in demonstration quality sound.