Steven Isserlis is one of the greatest performers of this generation of string virtuosos (virtuosi?), and has been greatly over-looked. I highly reccommend seeing him perform live, if you get the chance. I saw him in Germany playing the Elgar Concerto with the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig. I was absolutely blown away by the performance, and that means a lot, because in my opinion, Jaqueline Du Pre is the god of the Elgar, and no one can duplicate her mastery of the piece. Isserlis, however, came extremely close in my book.
Anyway, on to the CD. To start, the recording itself is great. Very clear, and the orchestras compliment Isserlis very well. The Elgar is exactly as I remembered it (though the Gewandhaus might have had a little more passion at the first big tutti section....believe me, it was phenominal. I was jumping out of my seat).
I really can't say much for the Bloch and the Kabalevsky---I haven't really listened to them as much as I should have. I'm not really a fan of either composer, to tell the truth.
The Strauss is awesome! I love this piece to begin with, and I think it was executed well by both the virtually unknown Minnesota Orchestra, and by Isserlis and Cynthia Phelps (viola). I especailly like the "Ride Through the Air" variation. Unlike some recordings I have heard of this piece, they decided to keep the wind machine, which adds so much extra flavor.
Now the only problem I have with this recording is the Tchaikovsky. For people who aren't too familiar with the piece, this is the ORIGINAL version of the piece, as penned by Tchaikovsky. The version that you will find 99% of the time is an arrangement by the cellist who premiered the piece, Guillaume Fitzenhagen. When Tchaikovsky handed him the piece, he disliked the program of the variations, so he reordered them and cut the last variation, replacing it with the fourth, convincing Tchaikovsky it was for the best. What Isserlis has done here is record the version that was in Tchaikovsky's head, not the version arranged by Fitzenhagen. Now it sounds like this should be an awesome deal, and yes, it is nice to have as a reference, but after listening to the real ending, I'm not impressed. I actually prefer Fitzenhagen's version, now that I've heard both versions. It seems like there's all this build-up in the fourth variation, and then nothing. And then when the last variation comes, it sounds like a weirder version of the fourth, followed by the great coda. As for Isserlis, he does the best that he can with the restored piece, and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe does well accomapanying him, and has a nice quality.
So all-in-all, this CD is worth buying for the Elgar and the Strauss. The only reason I give this a 4 out of 5 stars is because of the choice of restoring the Tchaikovsky. I think it's great that there actually is a recording of it this way, but I'm just not in love with it. And as far as the Bloch and Kabalevsky go, make your own judgements, because I definitely do not have any. The beauty of CDs is that you can skip over entire pieces, if you wish.
Bravo, Steven Isserlis!