With your moderator still recovering from eye surgery, we thank Friend of Ionarts Robert 'Mecki' Pohl for the following thoughts on Thursday's recital by Steven Isserlis and Robert Levin. This review is an Ionarts exclusive.
Beethoven, Cello Sonatas, S. Isserlis, R.Levin (Hyperion, 2014)
The difference was remarkable, and, in the main, a real improvement. Starting with the quiet Adagio introduction of the first sonata, the warmth of the fortepiano meshed beautifully with the tone of Isserlis's gut strings. The revelations continued even through the sprightly Allegro, with notes that would otherwise be covered up being allowed to shine through. Particularly the quiet section that leads into the final, furious run was so subdued that it appeared that the fortepiano was in another room. As the first movement came to a triumphant end, it was a real testament to the restraint of the audience that nobody burst into applause.
In op. 102, no. 2, which ended the first half of the program, once again it was the Adagio that shone through, with its sublime notes flowing from Isserlis's bow and making a piece that has been played thousands of times feel truly new. (Why the fortepiano is not the go-to instrument in this modern age became clear during the intermission, when a technician came out to tune it, a job that took most of the time available.)
Jeremy Eichler, Uncorking Beethoven, one cello work at a time (Boston Globe, October 28)
David Weininger, Steven Isserlis delves into Beethoven at the Gardner (Boston Globe, October 24)
As an encore, the two musicians offered up more Beethoven: a piece for mandolin and harpsichord which Isserlis said was much too good to be left to them. Levin quickly added that they “apologize to any mandolin players,” to which Isserlis replied “no we don't” and proceeded to play the fairly flashy piece with his usual good cheer and skill. It was a wonderful end to a remarkable concert.
The good news is that the rest of the Beethoven Sonatas will be played later this season by Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax. The bad news is that this concert is not until April 13.