The Violin Channel recently sat down with British cellist Steven Isserlis – as he was making final preparation for his recital this Sunday, with acclaimed harpsichordist and Baroque scholar Richard Egarr, at New York’s 92nd Street Y.
Hi Steven, tell us a little about the repertoire for this Sunday’s recital.
“Richard and I will perform Bach’s 1st and 2nd Viola de Gamba Sonatas - glorious works … then there is a beautiful sonata for cello by Boccherini, which is a refined and exquisite example of this wonderful composer’s language. I find him to be the gentlest of composers, and I love him for it.
I’ll perform Bach’s Solo Suite No. 5 - which is the most dark and tragic of the six suites.
We’ll also play an arrangement I’ve done myself of the rather eccentric violin sonata by Scarlatti … it’s vintage Scarlatti - full of fizz and energy.
Richard will also perform Handel’s ‘The Harmonious Blacksmith’ Suite No. 4 in E Major, another winner.”
What was the idea behind this eclectic Baroque-lovers programme?
“It was nothing more than Richard and I really love performing together, and of course most of the repertoire we play together is baroque or early classical.
He’s a highly educated Baroque player and scholar but also a highly instinctive and above all passionately inventive musician; we’ve been great friends for many years and performed together many times.
Richard has the ability to make the harpsichord sing … and this is a selection of our most treasured Baroque works.”
As you mentioned, the Scarlatti sonata is an arrangement originally written for violin and harpsichord. Did this pose any challenges?
"Not really … It was predominantly taken down the octave and stylistically is well-suited to the cello. It was actually listed as a keyboard sonata for many years, until Lionel Salter pointed out that it and a few other sonatas in the keyboard collection were actually violin sonatas.
We recorded the Scarlatti sonata, along the gamba sonatas of Bach and Handel, a few years ago. I’ve loved it from the moment I first saw it - Scarlatti is unique!
I enjoy adapting works, but this wasn’t one of my more difficult attempts … the masochist in me is keen to take on Schumann’s 2nd violin sonata next …”
This performance is part of a larger US tour that you are both currently undertaking. How do you keep repertoire fresh with performances night after night?
“Masterpieces like these are never a problem in keeping them fresh.
Bach will always surprise you.”
What are you hoping the 92nd Street Y listeners will take away with them?
“I’m hoping the listeners in the audience will simply take away the miracle that is Bach, Boccherini, Scarlatti and Handel. And that is all.
We’re most certainly not giving a lecture recital - rather simply just playing exquisite music."
Is there something unique or special about performing at the 92nd Street Y?
“It actually reminds me somewhat of the Wigmore Hall in London, my ‘musical home' … so there is a nice feeling of being home when I perform at the Y.
The acoustics for small ensembles are beautiful and I really appreciate how adventurous the artistic team is with the programming - if I have an interesting idea, they’ll listen - and more than often be interested.”
The Violin Channel is this week giving away 3 x Steven Isserlis VIP 92Y ticket packs – each containing 2 premium concert tickets + a post-concert backstage ‘meet and greet’ with the soloist + a personally-autographed souvenir CD and concert program.