Isserlis Energizes Martinu Sonatas

Steven Isserlis turns in an attractive program of cello music with this new SACD. Bohuslav Martinu wrote in a very distinctive style; one that was remarkably consistent throughout his long and prolific career. Martinu wrote tonal works, but they were his own version of tonality.

Dancing syncopation and shimmering chords are Martinu trademarks, and they’re here in abundance. Playing two or more of Martinu compositions back-to-back — especially ones using the same forces can have the effect of blurring them together. Isserlis avoids this by interspersing works by two composers whose styles complement Martinu’s, simultaneously providing contrast and creating a coherent program.

Jean Sibelius’ Malinconia, Op. 20 is a dark work, written after the death of the composer’s infant daughter. Isserlis convincingly brings out the pathos of the work, while at the same time savoring the beauty of Sibelius’ extended melodic lines.

Pianinst Olli Mustonen not only partners with Isserlis in these performances; he also provides a sonata as well. Mustonen’s post-romantic composition fits in nicely with the Martinu and Sibelius works, with plenty of rich sonorities and juicy melodic tidbits.

Isserlis has recorded these works before, and this time he doesn’t hold back. Martinu’s music has a certain lightness to it, but Isserlis makes it more compelling by really digging into the notes. The urgent character his technique brings to these works makes them, in my opinion, some of the best recorded versions of Martinu’s cello sonatas to date. And if you have an opportunity, listen to this release through an SACD player. The intimate nature of this chamber music becomes all the more vivid with the additional sonic details the format provides.

Bohuslav Martinu: Cello Sonatas 1-3; Works by Sibelius and Mustonen
Steven Isserlis, cello; Olli Mostonen, piano
BIS SACD

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