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SACD Review

Sonatas for Cello and Piano

Stephen Isserlis, cello
Olli Mustonen, piano
BIS-SACD-2042 Hybrid Multichannel
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This attractive disc showcases what for many listeners will be an unfamiliar program. Martinů's three cello sonatas have been recorded on a number of occasions (including an earlier recording by Stephen Isserlis on Helios with Peter Evans at the keyboard), but remain relatively little known. Malinconia is not one of Sibelius's better known pieces, to put it mildly. And only real enthusiasts who have played it or heard it live will be familiar with Olli Mustonen's sonata.

Yet the combination works well. The three Martinů sonatas complement each other nicely. The first (written in 1939 after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia) is the most searching, particularly the Lento, which Isserlis and Mustonen play with real depth of feeling. The momentum of the second sonata (written in exile in the US) is nicely captured by the two performers; likewise for the rhythmically rewarding and even more dynamic third sonata. Isserlis and Mustonen clearly have great affinity for this music (and Isserlis's program notes in the booklet are thoughtful and informative).

Sibelius's Malinconia is aptly so-named. It is an unremitting lament for the composer's deceased infant daughter. Isserlis illuminatingly describes it as "a tone poem for cello and piano in which the darkness of Finland's forests alternates with the consoling sound of human chant." Isserlis plays with lyrical depth and a fine singing line rising above Mustonen's driving piano accompaniment.

Mustonen's own sonata is appealing, combining catchy phrases for the cello with an energetic and percussive accompaniment for the piano. It is clearly from the same stylistic and emotional universe as the other pieces on the disc (like Sibelius, Mustonen is a Finn). This is the first recording and it rounds out very nicely an interesting and satisfying selection of music for cello and piano. I recommend this disc.

Copyright © 2014, José Luis Bermúdez