Tuesday 9 June 2020

Early Beethoven, late Faure and Schumann's birthday: Steven Isserlis and Mishka Rushdie Momen at Wigmore Hall

Mishka Rushdie Momen & Steven Isserlis at the Wigmore Hall (Photo from live stream)
Mishka Rushdie Momen & Steven Isserlis at the Wigmore Hall
(Photo from live stream)
Beethoven, Schumann, Faure; Steven Isserlis, Mishka Rushie Momen; Wigmore Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 8 June 2020
An hour of vibrantly engaging music making celebrating Schumann's birthday alongside Beethoven's first sonata and late Faure

Wigmore Hall and BBC Radio 3's series of live lunchtime concerts continued on Monday 8 June 2020 with a recital from cellist Steven Isserlis and pianist Mishka Rushdie Momen in Beethoven's Cello Sonata No. 1, Schumann's Three Romances, Op.94 and Faure's Cello Sonata No. 1.

Beethoven's first two cello sonatas date from 1796 when he was visiting Berlin as part of a tour he undertook with a patron. The sonatas are dedicated to the music loving King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, and the premiere was given by the French cellist Jean-Louis Duport (who was the brother of the king's first cellist) with Beethoven at the piano. Up until this point, classical cello sonatas had involved the cello 'playing along' with the bass line of the music, and it was Beethoven who conceived of the sonata where the cello has an independent life. In these first two sonatas, the piano still gets the lion's share of the interest, after all Beethoven would have wanted to show off his own prowess too. (Incidentally Duport played a Stradivarius cello which was subsequently owned by the cellist who gave the premiere of Chopin's Cello Sonata, and it was acquired by Mstislav Rostropovich in 1974).
Cello Sonata No. 1 is in just two movements, but the first has an opening introduction which is so substantial as to be almost a movement in its own right. Isserlis and Rushdie Momen plunged straight in, with a striking, architectonic account of the introduction which was very much a dialogue between equals. Whether you were viewing or listening, this was riveting music making with both performers bringing a remarkable intensity to the performance, yet the music never felt over romanticised. There was a clarity to Rushdie Momen's piano playing which formed a complement and contrast to Isserlis' cello. The main section of the movement was almost perky, yet both brought a sense of drama to the music. The final was engaging and again, almost perky, but the musicians also brought out the complexity of the music in what was an absorbing dialogue.

Monday was Robert Schumann's 210th birthday and in celebration, Isserlis and Rushdie Momen played Schumann's Three Romances. These were written in 1849 for oboe and piano; Schumann does not seem to have had a specific player in mind for them and the oboe as a solo instrument was relatively unusual in the Romantic period. Schumann's publisher printed them with alternative versions for violin and for clarinet (though Schumann was unhappy about this), and a version for cello soon followed.

The Three Romances were written whilst the Schumann family was in Dresden, and Schumann gave them to his wife Clara as a Christmas present.  The first movement was a highly romantic dialogue between cello and piano, the second was more flowing with a lovely sense of give and take between the two performers, whilst the third was rhapsodic and impulsive.

Gabriel Faure's Cello Sonata No. 1 is a late work, dating from when he was 72. By this period, Faure was increasingly attracted to larger scale structures; whereas his earlier works for cello and piano had been lyrical single-movement pieces, the sonata is rather different. The first movement introduced us to quite a surprising sound world, edgy, restless and energetic, and in fact Faure's son Philippe later suggested that his father's deafness, the way he heard the instruments, contributed to the new sound world of this music. The second movement was rather interior and somewhat bleak, whilst the flowing final movement gave a sense of endless melody, shared between the two instruments to create a complex, questioning work.

AS a final encore, Isserlis and Rushdie Momen played Bach's chorale Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ BWV177. The concert is available on BBC Sounds, and the video is available on the Wigmore Hall website until 8 July.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • Adventures on the Green Hill: Tony Cooper explores Richard Wagner's villa Wahnfried at Bayreuth - feature article
  • A fascinating conundrum - Les contes d'Hoffmann: with its troubled genesis & editorial confusion, Offenbach's final opera seems unique, yet it developed out ideas from the composer's lesser-known late period - feature article
  • A sense of shimmering silence: music by the Catalan composer Josep Maria Guix on Images of broken light from Neu records - CD review
  • A remarkable achievement: Gustavo Díaz-Jerez's Maghek, a cycle of seven symphonic poems inspired by the Canary Islands recorded on Signum Classics - Cd review
  • Song recitals return to Wigmore Hall and BBC Radio 3, with Lucy Crowe and Anna Tilbrook celebrating the 20th anniversary of their partnership - Concert review
  • Live music returns to the Wigmore Hall: Stephen Hough in Bach/Busoni and Schumann - concert review
  • Adventures on the Green Hill: with no Bayreuth Festival this year, Tony Cooper looks back at previous festivals - feature article
  • Thaïs: Massenet's lyric drama gets a rare outing on disc in a stylish performance with Canadian forces conducted by Sir Andrew Davis - CD review
  • Uncompromising large-scale drama: composer and performers on thrilling form in Adès conducts Adès from Deutsche Grammophon - CD review
  • A disc that I never wanted to end: Scottish guitarist Sean Shibe displays clarity, structure and an innate sense of elegance in Bach's solo lute music on Delphian - CD review
  • Richard Danielpour: The Passion of Yeshua - A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint - CD review
  • 'Home

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