Recognized as one of the great communicators on the concert stage today, Steven Isserlis has written the liner notes to this disc, his third release on BIS, noting that the bond between the works he has chosen to record is their tragic inspiration – ‘the most terrible, senseless conflict the world has ever known.’ The conflict in question is the First World War, and Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo and Frank Bridge’s Oration, subtitled ‘Concerto Elegiaco’, spring directly from their creators’ reactions to its ‘grey hopelessness and the mindless, irreplaceable waste’. Schelomo was composed during the war itself, inspired by the boundless despair expressed in the text of Ecclesiastes: ‘Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities…’ Bloch, who had originally intended to use the text itself in the work changed his mind after an encounter with the Russian cellist Alexander Barjansky. Naming it after King Salomo, traditionally regarded as the author of Ecclesiastes, Bloch created what has become one of the most frequently performed works for cello and orchestra from the 20th century. Less well-known, but no less deeply felt, is Oration, composed in 1930 by Frank Bridge, whose early works had been in a traditional vein with influences from Fauré and Brahms. A convinced pacifist, Bridge had been horrified by the war, and this greatly contributed to the radical changes in his musical language. One of the finest examples of this is the present ‘Concerto Elegiaco’, which Steven Isserlis describes as ‘taking us, almost cinematically, into the mud and slaughter of the battlefields, its cries of brutal suffering forming a musical protest.’ Closing the programme is The Loneliest Wilderness, a work which takes its title from a poem by Herbert Read published in 1919. More than eighty years later Stephen Hough, who as a pianist has collaborated extensively with Isserlis, composed his elegy, but it still resonates with the anguish of the Great War.
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