Déjà Review: this review was first published in September 2001 and the recording is still available.

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Don Quixote Op. 35
Romance for Cello and Orchestra
Sonata for Cello and Piano Op. 6
Steven Isserlis (cello), Stephen Hough (piano), Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
rec. 2000
RCA 74321 753982 [76]

Ten years ago the young Steven Isserlis performed Don Quixote in front of a friendly audience in Minneapolis and returned over the next two days to make a studio recording with the Minnesota Orchestra under its then Music Director Edo de Waart. Over the intervening years, of course, Isserlis has risen to considerable eminence and this new recording reflects his growing maturity in every respect.

Maazel can often give performances of great technical perfection but with a seeming lack of heart. Happily, on this occasion, he is at the top of his form shaping the music brilliantly and with a calm assurance. The recording allows a wealth of detail to emerge and Isserlis is balanced completely naturally, within a very wide dynamic range. The Munich based players know this music inside out and Maazel gives them the requisite time to express and characterize their solos and chamber-like ensembles. The wind machine really sounds like wind and the monks (bassoons) are as dry and academic as could be!

Isserlis gives a truly heartfelt performance and although his Virgin Classics recording was no mean effort, he now expresses the humour, gravity, irony and pathos of the Don with marvellous subtlety. The finale with its long stretched out melody finds him playing with both simplicity and intense concentration. This really is a case of suspended disbelief – Strauss’s musical description of this complex ‘hero’ is portrayed by Isserlis to an almost tangible degree.

The couplings are ideal and, as we have come to expect from their previous recordings for RCA, the Isserlis/Hough combination ensures the highest quality of music making.

The fly in the ointment? Unbelievably BMG fails to mention the name of the excellent solo violist anywhere on the packaging or in the booklet. Artists nearly always ask to see the proofs of the printed parts before they are sent to the factory and many large companies simply refuse to comply. Such an attitude is both boorish and dangerous. Doubtless had Isserlis seen the proofs he would have spotted this piece of discourtesy immediately. Sadly, no mention of the fine solo violinist or oboist either – although this is more common in recordings of Don Quixote.

The Virgin recording is available as part of an amazingly inexpensive all-Isserlis double album, but if you can, go for this superb new full-price issue from RCA.

Simon Foster

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