Steven Isserlis and Thomas Adès's new disc for Hyperion Records is a haunting affair. Spanning Liszt, Janáček, Fauré, Kurtág and Adès's own Lieux retrouvés, a 2009 work written for Isserlis, these dreamy but often threatening tales provide an otherworldly listening experience.
The music itself would be vivid enough, yet when communicated by a tone as honeyed as Isserlis's and with Adès being ever-pliant at the piano, this is a disc in which to lose yourself.
I don't know why it is that the cello of all instruments makes one dream of Elsewhere when one hears it. Perhaps because the colours are so rich and wide-ranging, one can dream and find oneself in a different place.
Given the extraordinary transports communicated in these works - Liszt to a deathly Venice, Janáček into a Slavic Never Never Land, Fauré's own lyrical melancholy, Kurtág into a work of shadows and tributes and Adès's ideated waters, mountains, fields and towns of post-Rimbaud world - Isserlis and Adès take a brave but decisive move not to cloud those views. Theirs is a simple but dazzingly study in non-invasive musicianship, albeit with luscious tone and tender reflection in plentiful supply.
Within the Venetian setting of the Liszt works and the long-spun melodic lines that Isserlis so defly weaves, Kurtág and Adès's music provides a more mordant note (and a goodly dose of virtuosity in the latter). Yet, even here, a nostalgic air of honey-drowning remains. This is not so much a recording as an imaginative springboard in the unknown
I do not always like Isserlis' playing – too much self-consciously intense, fast vibrato distracts from the music – but this recording is quite different. The melodic, singing lines are very moving, and absolutely stunningly controlled, nuanced and flowing, even to a whisper of a pianissimo (the hardest thing on a cello). The music is very 'accessible' (sorry about the word, but it is...), but with depth and real substance. This is the first piece of Ades' that I have liked too and the cello writing really is just that. Well worth the struggle Isserlis says he had in learning it! Ensemble and piano playing are lovely too. Super disc and a lovely Christmas present.
Some fantastic music and superb performances. 20th Century works - apart from the Liszt - unusual 'programming' as we work through Fauré and Janacek to Kurtag and Ades, but it works and Steven Isserlis makes sure it does. Thomas Ades is the pianist and they both play together wonderfully. Simply delightful.