Saturday, May 02, 2015

Steven Isserlis with Lan Shui and the SSO

While I am familiar with the compositions of Dmitri Shostakovich, I know nothing much about cellist Steven Isserlis. I saw him years ago in Singapore when John Nelson conducted the SSO. But E was the bigger fan and wanted to watch Steven Isserlis play Shostakovich's First Cello Concerto.

We were up to our neck in work that day, but emails could wait for 2.5 hours before we return to the business of annoying the associates. Even though tickets were bought, given my crazy schedule which involves loads of last-minute work stuff, I wasn't sure if I could make the date, but E was kind enough not to mind. She knows I never pass up the chance to spend an evening at the concert.

Lan Shui conducted the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) for Steven Isserlis through Shostakovich's 1959 Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 107, then Tchaikovsky's sixth and final completed Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 ‘Pathétique’.

Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 107 began on a familiar upbeat four note-cello theme. The second movement was sparse in orchestration. Percussion, yes, but mostly cello. We were taught that the third and fourth movements were greatly satirical. I strained to hear that when I studied it, and I still strained to hear it that night. Steven Isserlis brought the concerto to a life of its own and lent it his strong command of phrasing and stops, exhibiting his much declared love of gut strings. With that artistic mop of hair, he still looked every inch the rock star and exuded all the charm to own the stage. I could easily imagine him blitzing a riff on a Strat. :P For the encore, he did a fun little 'March' from Prokofiev's 'Music for Children, Op.65'.

First performed nine days before Tchaikovsky's much debated mysterious death in November 1893, Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 ‘Pathétique’ is the only symphony to begin and end in a minor key and one of the defining sounds of Romanticism. It's kinda bleak and doesn't provide an optimistic conclusion. Many critics read it as tragic pathos, although not as a tragedy. The adagio lamentoso is almost funereal. SSO played it well. I hadn't heard them for a while. The orchestra sounded even more cohesive.

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