Forgotten Romance - Grieg, Rubinstein / Isserlis, Hough

Regular price $16.99
Added to Cart! View cart or continue shopping.
An inspired duo creates one of the most enjoyable cello discs in years.

With Steven Isserlis and Stephen Hough an inspired duo, natural recording artists both, this is one of the most enjoyable new cello discs I have heard in years. I should be sorry if the sentimental title, “Forgotten Romance”, taken from the shortest and least ambitious piece in the collection, deterred any serious listener from investigating it. The logic of the grouping is that the five cello pieces of Liszt, all of them brief and all of them adapted from earlier works, are used to frame the high romantic cello sonatas, by Grieg and Rubinstein, that are in danger of neglect. As Isserlis suggests in his engagingly argued note, “The unabashed emotionalism, the thrilling climaxes and memorable melodies of all such works are all too easily sneered at nowadays, and concert programmes are thus deprived of a host of 19th-century treasures.”

His advocacy is well founded, for in these exhilarating performances he and Hough challenge each other in spontaneously imaginative interplay to bring out all the qualities he mentions. The point is that with performances like these, as sharply disciplined as they are passionate, all the emotion is very well founded, with sentimentality firmly kept at bay. Romance oubliee, adapted from an early song, was originally written for viola, with an added arpeggio passage at the end reflecting Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, which Liszt had arranged for viola and piano. As Paul Coletti and Leslie Howard demonstrate on their Hyperion recording (11/93), Romance oubliee is rather better suited to that instrument, but makes a pleasant ‘song without words’ here to introduce the magnificent Grieg Sonata. Written when Grieg was considering composing a second piano concerto, its material and manner very much reflect the A minor Concerto, with Grieg at his most richly distinctive. Compared with, say, Truls Mork and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Isserlis and Hough are lighter and more imaginative, never running the risk of sounding sentimental, choosing speeds that flow easily and naturally. Paradoxically that makes the result more moving than any underlining of expression.

One could say the same about all these performances. The two Elegies – with Isserlis most persuasive in the improvisation-like passages – lead to the Rubinstein First Sonata. It has the lyrical directness and honest four-square construction which make the Mendelssohn cello sonatas so attractive. After a strongly characterized first movement Isserlis and Hough adopt a genuine flowing Allegretto for the siciliano rhythms of the central movement, made charmingly fresh, and the exuberant finale finds Hough at his most brilliant in the shimmering piano writing. The disc is rounded off by two Liszt pieces slightly more substantial than the others – Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth (“The Cell in Nonnenwerth”) – a late adaptation of an early song, spare in texture, and Liszt’s tribute to Wagner after his death, La lugubre gondola, one of many different adaptations. It would be a pity if such inspired playing failed to be appreciated, when, as Hough says, all this music so richly deserves to be better known.

-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone [4/1996]

Product Description:

  • Release Date: March 28, 2008

  • Catalog Number: RCA68290

  • UPC: 090266829026

  • Label: RCA

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Anton Rubinstein, Edvard Grieg, Franz Liszt

  • Performer: Stephen Hough, Steven Isserlis