Musica Viva concert: Steven Isserlis & Dénes Várjon

Cello (Photo by Jamilsoni, used under Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial No-derivative Works 2.0)

Cello (Photo by Jamilsoni, used under Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial No-derivative Works 2.0)

I haven’t written about all the Musica Viva concerts I’ve attended this year because I don’t really have any music review skills. However, I can’t resist writing a little about this one. This is the third time we’ve seen the cellist Steven Isserlis, each time accompanied by a different pianist, and we’ve never been disappointed. He is one of those expressive performers who actively communicates with the audience through his playing.

Tonight’s program was all Schumann – played by two Schumaniacs (as Isserlis described themselves when introducing their encore – another piece by Schumann!). This despite the fact that Schumann, while apparently liking the cello having played it as a child, wrote little for it. Only one of the six programmed pieces was written for cello; the rest were written for instruments as varied as violin, oboe, clarinet and piano. Whatever they were originally written for, the arrangements for cello and piano that we heard tonight were delightful and could, to my ears anyhow, have always been intended that way. The program was:

  • Fantasiestücke, op 73
  • Märchenbilder, op 113 (arranged Alfredo Piatti)
  • Violin Sonata no 3 in A minor (1853) (arranged Steven Isserlis)
  • Three Romances, op 94
  • Adagio and Allegro, op 70
  • Fünf Stücke im Volkston, op 102 (the one originally for cello and piano)

Schumann is a Romantic composer, and his pieces clearly reflect that period – they are variously sweet, melancholic, dramatic, humorous even, but never discordant or jarring.  The playing was lovely. That said, some of my companions felt that the piano often overwhelmed the cello. Others of us, though, almost forgot the piano (gorgeous as it was) existed, so focused were we on Steven. He is hard not to focus on with his somewhat wild curly locks and animated playing. He is also unflappable: just as he finished a movement of one piece a baby in the audience squawked. Isserlis pulled a humorous face and commented that while a couple of notes might have been out of tune, it wasn’t that bad, and then muttered something about “critics”! What a charmer!

I guess my only criticism, if you could call it that, is that the program was all Schumann. Schumann is lovely and the program had some colour to it, but I would probably have enjoyed a little wider variety – a little discordance perhaps to counterpoint all the lyricism. This is but a petty point to make about a lovely evening’s music played by delightful performers. And who could be more delightful than a performer whose voicemail apparently goes like this:

Please leave me a nice uplifting message to make my day, make my life worthwhile. (Musica Viva Concert Program)

What more can I say!

PS If you are interested, here is a YouTube of Isserlis and Várjon playing Schumann’s Arbendlied Op 85 No 12, which was the encore at our concert.

2 thoughts on “Musica Viva concert: Steven Isserlis & Dénes Várjon

  1. I, too, attended this performance and felt that the piano dominated the cello, particularly in the first half of the program. ‘Who is accompanying whom’, thought I, which was a little disappointing as the cello is one of my favourite instruments. However, the pianist was superb so it was still a wonderful evening’s entertainment .

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