In The Shadow of War
Back in the late 1980s, Steven Isserlis set down memorably eloquent versions of Bridge’s Oration and Bloch’s Schelomo with Richard Hickox at the helm. So how do these remakes for BIS measure up? Well, Isserlis’s spellbinding advocacy of Bridge’s raptly compassionate masterpiece in particular has acquired an extra richness of experience and plangent intensity (the epilogue will haunt you for days, I promise). At the same time, there’s no missing the songful ardour, story-telling flair and subtle poetic instinct he brings to Bloch’s fabulously idiomatic solo writing. With Hugh Wolff drawing the most stylish, characterful and responsive playing from his Berlin forces, both performances really are tremendously compelling in their articulate composure, nourishing intelligence and clear-sighted purpose. Competition is, of course, fierce – I personally would not want to be without either Navarra or Clein in the Bloch, and Alban Gerhardt’s Chandos recording of Oration with Hickox and the BBC NOW remains a very special document – but this fervent newcomer demands to be heard.
Originally conceived for bassoon and orchestra, Stephen Hough’s The Loneliest Wilderness (a 16-minute essay from 2005 inspired by Herbert Read’s First World War poem ‘My Company’) inevitably seems small fry in such towering company, though it evinces an innocent wonder, appealing lyricism and generosity of spirit that do not pall. The Tapiola Sinfonietta under Gábor Takács-Nagy tender sympathetic support to the ever-eloquent Isserlis, and BIS’s sound throughout projects with state-of-the-art realism. A most distinguished release.