Thursday, 17 May 2018

CD Review (The Straits Times, May 2018)

BIS 2312 / *****

British cellist Steven Isserlis has another winner in this album of cello sonatas written during the First World War (1914-1918) by composers from the warring nations. The contrasts are as varied as the composers themselves. 

Two Frenchmen nearing their last years find altogether different inspirations. Claude Debussy's Cello Sonata (1915) seeks a simplicity that defined early French music, and is a gem of brevity in three movements. Gabriel Fauré's Cello Sonata No.1 (1917) has a mellowness and autumnal lyricism that could only have come from the same pen as his famous Requiem of 1890.

Between these is the longest of three sonatas, Englishman Frank Bridge's Cello Sonata (1913-1917). Its two movements are filled with passionate and sometimes violent outbursts which reflect the brutal futility of war. Austrian composer Anton Webern's Three Little Pieces (1914) were chosen as the antithesis. Atonal and aphoristic, these play for just 9, 13 and 10 bars each, barely lasting 3 minutes in total. 

The recital concludes with four short pieces played on a “trench cello” (a compact self-assembled instrument housed within a rectangular case the size of an ammunition box) once owned by war veteran Harold Triggs who carried and played it on the fields of Ypres. 

Its limpid and glassy tone brings a poignancy to Saint-Saëns' The Swan, Hubert Parry's Jerusalem, Ivor Novello's Keep The Home-Fires Burning and God Save The King, which has to be heard to be believed. Isserlis and Canadian pianist Connie Shih serve up an aural treat in this excellent themed recital.

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