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Isserlis, Walton, and the National Symphony

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Shostakovich, Symphony No. 10, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, V. Ashkenazy
Saturday evening, the National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Vladimir Ashkenazy presented William Walton's Cello Concerto, with Steven Isserlis as soloist, and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10. For the NSO's first performance of the Walton Cello Concerto (1957), Isserlis took the opportunity to address the audience, declaring the concerto "one of the very greatest works for cello and orchestra," and a work of "Romanticism and drama" written as an expression of Walton's love for his wife. It begins with the lushness of a June garden and becomes a cello frenzy in the second movement, marked Allegro appassionato, in which Isserlis would sometimes hide in the orchestra's texture and then spring from it beautifully, while shaking his grey curly locks. The final Tema ed improvvisazione movement features a soothing, meandering theme with the orchestra at times taking a variation alone. Isserlis demanded the full gamut of his instrument in the variations for solo cello, particularly its vocal low range with profound open low Cs that foreshadowed the final one upon which the work ends. More exposure by audiences and critics will help determine whether the concerto as a whole is more a cellist's piece or one for the listener.

Other Reviews:

Robert R. Reilly, Ashkenazy & NSO Find Much Beauty In Shostakovich (Ionarts, June 18)

Robert Battey, Vladi­mir Ashkenazy conducting the National Symphony Orchestra (Washington Post, June 17)

Charles T. Downey, Isserlis and Gerstein, Terrace Theater (Ionarts, January 8, 2010) -- on Isserlis's soft, subtle tone being due to his use of wound gut strings
Ashkenazy, gripping his baton with a tight fist, led Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 with mixed results. The amount of tension brought to the podium seemingly limited his ability to rally the orchestra. It was a further burden when momentum in slower movements waned or Ashkenazy would allow the brass to rush him. Horn flubs aside, the NSO has a great, eager sound and showed their immense power in the second movement, which is a supposed portrait of Stalin as this work was composed in the liberating wake of Stalin's death in 1953. In contrast, though big, loud, and Soviet, the final movement (Andante-Allegro) featured a Georgian folk tune skillfully played by the contraforte leading to the work's optimistic end.

The NSO now enters its Summer Pops phase, with concerts in the Filene Center at Wolf Trap in July and August, beginning on July 8.


Anonymous said...

"More exposure by audiences and critics will help determine whether the concerto as a whole is more a cellist's piece or one for the listener."

Excuse me? Walton's Cello Concerto is fifty years old. If you still have to get used to it, perhaps you should have done that before the concert? There are a number of very good recordings, and I think there is plenty of reason to take Isserlis seriously when he says it's one of the greatest works for cello and orchestra.


jfl said...

Second that. Jamie Walton's is the finest modern recording to these ears... but I still go back to the first recording for it, with my beloved Piatigorsky. (Coupled with all the other essential Walton.)