PROKOFIEV: Cello Concerto in E minor; March No. 10 from Music for Children, Op. 65; SHOSTAKOVICH: Cello Concerto No. 1 in E Flat Major – Steven Isserlis, cello/ Frankfurt Radio Sym. Orch./ Parva Järvi – Hyperion CDAA68057 65:20 (3/10/15) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

This is a surprising and gratifying disc from Hyperion. I wouldn’t normally expect the Prokofiev and Shostakovich cello concertos together, as the two composers are linked mainly by geography, but the pairing works very well here, and as you’ll see, they two works do have some linkages.

The Prokofiev Cello Concerto is not what I would call part of the standard fare, and some call it a musical failure, but in fact cellist Steven Isserlis breathes life into this work, and it is compelling and thrilling. The work got off to a bad start at the premier in 1938, when Lev Berezovsky played it in a style some called ‘soulless’. Later performances were more accepted, and eventually Prokofiev rewrote it to create the Symphony-Concerto (Op. 125).

The Shostakovich Cello Concerto No.1 can be seen as a response to the Prokofiev and it is eruptive, engaging, and with Isserlis, an excellent listen. The concerto was composed in 1959 by Dmitri Shostakovich. Shostakovich wrote the work for his friend Mstislav Rostropovich, who committed it to memory in four days and gave the premiere on October 4, 1959, with Yevgeny Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra.The composer was inspired by the Prokofiev in the creation of this work, and they share some similarities, especially in the use of the tympani.

Steven Isserlis was awarded a CBE in 1998 in recognition of his services to music, and in 2000 he received the Schumann Prize of the City of Zwickau. His performances here are driven and filled with emotion. He has recorded several acclaimed discs with Hyperion, and this will surely add to his praise.

The recording is excellent, and Paavo Järvi and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra sound highly engaged in the compositions. It’s a standard CD, but the sound stage is stable, the dynamic range is wide, and it all sounded fine in my listening room.

The disc ends with a Prokofiev March from his Music for Children Op. 65 for solo cello. Isserlis  has made an effort to frequently perform children’s concerts, so the inclusion of this work is a nice finish for the disc.

As mentioned, the two major works presented here are not all that well known, but I expect this release will propel both of these concertos further into the public consciousness. This is a fine disc, with superb performances. Recommended!

—Mel Martin