Steven Isserlis (cello), Stephen Hough (piano)
Playing together for the first time for Hyperion, Hough and Isserlis are stunningly matched in this large-scale passionate romantic programme. The sonatas stand at the centre of the meaty repertoire established by Brahms—whose two cello sonatas Steven Isserlis has recorded for us in an award-winning disc accompanied by Peter Evans (CDA66159)—and characterised by grand sweeping gestures, lush melody, and heartfelt emotions that sear from pathos to frenzy. The Franck is, of course, an alternative version the composer wished for his violin sonata, a transition that many feel to be the work's happiest incarnation. These performances are distinguished by the inspired combination of the renowned energy and panache of Isserlis with the fastidious translucency of Hough's playing, in music often despatched with more gush than gusto. Isserlis also provides a programme note very much in his own style; he examines the inspiration behind both works, coming as they do from deeply religious composers who were also the voices of greatly sensual radiance, while including reminiscences of his grandfather playing the piano part for the dedicatee of the Rachmaninov and of his grandmother learning the piano part in her 80s, to accompany her grandson! The disc is completed by what in the context may seem miniatures but which amply show how these great composers had a language of intimacy as much as expansiveness.