Q&A | Steven Isserlis on finally recording Dvořák’s B minor cello concerto
Internationally renowned cellist Steven Isserlis is releasing a new album in October of Dvořák cello concertos. The release, from Hyperion Records, will feature Isserlis performing with regular collaborators the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and conductor Daniel Harding. He is also curating and performing in a four-concert series at Wigmore Hall, starting on 17 September, entitled ‘Music in the Shadow of War’. The concerts will present the chamber music of a number of composers, including Stravinsky, Poulenc and Shostakovich, who were writing during and in between the world wars.
Q Why did you have to wait so long to record the Dvořák B minor concerto, which is so dear to you?
A I don’t really know. In the case of the Beethoven sonatas, I knew I wasn’t ready; with the Dvořák, it was different ‒ I could have recorded it earlier, but the circumstances never seemed quite right. It was only when I had the possibility to record it with a conductor and orchestra with whom I have a special relationship, and with a dream team from Hyperion, that I couldn’t think of any more reasons not to record it!
Q What do you think makes this piece so special? And what did you discover about the piece in the process of finally recording it?
A The piece is just a masterpiece in every way; it is heroic, intimate, exciting and deeply moving. I’m not sure I made any great discoveries as we were recording it ‒ but the piece changes, offers new challenges, every time one plays it.
Q You’ve also included a previously unrecorded version of an early Dvořák cello concerto. How did you discover this version and what made you decide to record alongside the B minor concerto?
A The Günther Raphael version of the A major concerto became available at around the time I was going off to study at Oberlin College in Ohio, so I took it with me, and spent much of my first semester working on it. I’d always been interested in this unknown early concerto by Dvořák ‒ and I do feel that the Raphael edition actually works better than the original.
Q You are soon to start a new concert series at Wigmore Hall entitled ‘Music in the Shadow of War’. How did the theme for this project come about? And how did you go about selecting the music for this endeavour?
A Well, I’ve always been fascinated by composers’ very different reactions to writing music in wartime conditions, so it’s been a series I’ve wanted to programme for some time. There are so many chamber music masterpieces written during the wars! The hardest thing was leaving out some truly great works ‒ apart from all the string quartets, Prokofiev’s first violin sonata, or Webern’s three pieces for cello, for instance, would have been perfect. Ah well, another time…
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