Review: Beethoven, Cello & Piano Cycle 2, Isserlis/Levin, Snape Proms, August 27

Steven Isserlis and Robert Levin followed their previous day’s recital with one of equal distinction, although containing somewhat more demanding, less immediately appealing music. It began with another set of variations, the composer returning to the Magic Flute and the aria ‘Bei Mannern, welche Liebe fuhlen.’ Once again, the delightfully inventive music was given a performance to match its character.

This was followed by the G minor sonata, the second of the opus 5. Like the F major it has a long first movement followed by a lighter rondo but the themes, particularly in the first movement are more sombre and reflective than in the companion piece. Isserlis probed the darker corners of the music with a searching intensity and Levin made some striking interventions on the fortepiano. The finale was sparkling and witty.

The two opus 102 sonatas are firmly in Beethoven’s late period, often enigmatic and profound but also containing humour and high spirits. The opening of the C major sonata seemed to come from a distant planet and the adagio of the second movement had some of the most rapt and intense playing of the whole cycle from both performers. The cellist’s control of his bow and the controlled decrescendos and pianissimos had the audience spellbound. The slow movement of the D major sonata, a glorious movement, was suspended in time with a profound calm and yet an underlying sense of progression. The vigorous, fugal finale was performed with great elan, culminating in the most enthusiastic of receptions. A perfectly chosen and restrained encore closed the excellent and illuminating cycle in the most appropriate manner. Thank you, gentlemen, you were quite superb.

Gareth Jones