Steven Isserlis has received widespread acclaim for his recent tour with the Australian Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Richard Tognetti, which included performances of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth before concluding in Sydney on July 4th.

In reviewing Isserlis’s first performance of the Shostakovich concerto in Canberra’s Llewellyn Hall, Jennifer Gall writes, “Isserlis plays this work like a man in a world tipped up on end by madness, clinging with his finger nails to a sense of order… Together Isserlis and Tognetti created an exhilarating and at times terrifying version of Shostakovich’s masterpiece.” (Canberra Times)

Writing for Limelight Magazine, critic Clinton White writes, “Playing alone, his incomparable technique, phrasing, expression and sensitivity across all the tempi and dynamics, quite simply, were incredible. There can be no doubt that Isserlis is an inspired – and inspiring – musician”.

Mr Isserlis performed so intensely in Melbourne that one of the strings of his cello snapped, though this did not take away any of the magic of the performance, as reported by Michael Bailey of the Financial Review: “…the music’s abrasive spell was re-cast as soon as Mr Isserlis played his next note, such is his virtuosity and that of the string ensemble behind him.”

The Sydney Morning Herald adds, “Though Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1, Opus 107 has much of the terrifying machine about it, cellist Steven Isserlis avoided a hammered or bludgeoning approach, creating tension at the opening in taut insistent rhythms and imaginative exploration of sound.”

Steve Moffat of The Daily Telegraph was effusive with his praise for Isserlis’s “searing Shostakovich”, writing: “In it you can hear anguish — it was written after Stalin’s death but the psychological scars of the brutal regime still ran deep — defiance and great beauty, all of which was illuminated with immaculate artistry in this performance… The moderato movement, in which Isserlis’ ghostly harmonics were accompanied by Brenda Jones’ celesta, was eerie and spine tingling…”

Steven Isserlis’s 2015 recording of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1, with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and Paavo Järvi, described by Gramophone as “unmissable” and awarded 5 stars by the BBC Music Magazine, is available to download from Hyperion Records here.

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