Classical home listening: Steven Isserlis, Beatrice Rana and more

By Fiona Maddocks
Steven Isserlis
‘Intelligence and passion’: Steven Isserlis. Photograph: Satoshi Aoyagi

• For Steven Isserlis, usually on tour and suddenly alone at home, lockdown meant the chance to rediscover music he had in old boxes. British Solo Cello Music (Hyperion) brings together works by Benjamin Britten, William Walton, John Gardner, Frank Merrick and Thomas Adès. Many have personal connections with Isserlis, recounted in a liner note full enough to act as a social history of 20th-century cello music.

The opening work is Britten’s Tema “Sacher” (1976), a tiny, urgent piece written in the last year of the composer’s life. It provides a strong opening flourish to his mighty Cello Suite No 3 (1971). Isserlis brings all his intelligence and passion to this impassioned music but offers other moods too. Gardner’s intimate Coranto pizzicato (1968) owes a debt to Elizabethan lute music, while Merrick’s Suite in the Eighteenth-Century Style has echoes of the Bach suites (which, as Isserlis points out, were not well known when Merrick wrote the work, probably in the 1930s). The last track is Adès’s gem-like Sola (2000), the trigger for its writing so charming it’s worth buying the album to discover the full story.

• The Italian pianist Beatrice Rana first recorded music of Chopin a decade ago at the age of 18. Chopin: Études, Op 25 and Four Scherzi (Warner) was made last year, the choice of works influenced by the “unprecedented period” of the pandemic. As she admits, her approach, fearless in bringing out the ferocity and agitation of a composer often loved for the opposite traits, wasn’t always well received. Here, she more than proves the value of her rigorous perspective.

Beatrice Rana plays Chopin: 12 Études, Op 25, No 7 in C sharp minor.

Her technical ease in works such as the B minor Scherzo, which can and should sound chaotic, provides clarity and direction beneath the blizzard of notes. The last three Preludes – Nos 10, 11 and 12 – stand out in scale, a grand, bold, galloping trio in which Rana keeps control, the reins tight but never rigid. The Fourth Scherzo, the only one in a major key, ends this compelling recital with an overriding sense of serenity.

• Unmissable: catch up with BBC Four’s Listening Through the Lens: The Christopher Nupen Films, a new documentary celebrating the work of this brilliant film-maker and the musicians he worked with, including the cellist Jacqueline du Pré, on BBC iPlayer.

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