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VC DESERT ISLAND DOWNLOADS | Cellist Steven Isserlis - '5 Recordings I Can’t Live Without'

The Violin Channel recently caught up with British cellist Steven Isserlis – for a fun game of VC Desert Island Downloads

The Violin Channel recently caught up with British cellist Steven Isserlis – for a fun game of VC Desert Island Downloads.

We sat him down to pick his brain on which 5 CD recordings he would take with him to a deserted island – and how the tracks have helped shape him as a musician.


"Here goes...

'In no particular order:

  1. Beethoven - The Late Quartets ...  Played by the Busch Quartet

Beethoven The Late String Quartets

Busch Quartet

Label: Warner Classics

Release Date: March 11, 2008


"I suppose that I might as well get some advantage from being on this wretched desert island (how long do I have to stay there?).

Among the most appalling in the infinite number of gaps in my knowledge of music is my lack of real familiarity with the late Beethoven Quartets - in that, although of course I’ve heard them all many times, I have never performed any of them, and have never sat down with a score and truly worked on them (apart from op 127, rather unsatisfactorily, many years ago).

I am guessing that the Busch quartet would be a good guide to these masterpieces - although there might be others I’d love even more (the Budapest Quartet, perhaps? The Vegh Quartet?).

My condition would be that a score of the quartets was included with the disc ... Non-negotiable, or I’m not going ..."


2. Tchaikovsky - 'Autumn Song' and other pieces recorded by Daniil Shafran and Nina Musinian in 1946

Daniel Safran Vol. 1

Label: DHR

Release Date: August 21, 2001


"This isn’t because it’s the most important music in the world for me (it isn’t, much though I love it); it’s just because it brings back an exhilarating experience from my childhood.

At the age of 12 or thereabouts, I was introduced to the playing of the Russian cellist Daniil Shafran - and fell in love (I’m still in love).

My father was an expert in a branch of metallurgy, metal finishing; and was occasionally asked to look after other experts in the same field who came to London - especially if they were from the Soviet Union, since he was a native Russian speaker.

One night, he brought home a lovely lady from Moscow. Of course, I asked her if she’d ever heard of Shafran, who, shut away in the Soviet Union, was a mystical figure for me; I don’t think I even knew what he looked like!

As she left, she promised to send me any records of his that she could find. It’s hard to imagine how distant Russia was in those days, how little contact there was with the West; it felt almost as if it was another planet.

So when, some months later, a parcel arrived from there, I was quite beyond excited. I still remember tearing open the package, and finding a flower-decorated record-sleeve inside. On the disc itself was a collection of short pieces - Tchaikovsky, Tsintsadse, etc - that lived up to my wildest hopes. Magical playing.

Little did I know then that, some 25 years later, with my friend Olli Mustonen I would sponsor Shafran’s return to London for the first time in 30 years. (At the dinner afterwards I was so utterly star-struck that, for the only time in my life, I forgot to eat my food.)"


3. Hoffnung - Interviews with Charles Richardson

The Importance Of Being Hoffnung

Gerard Hoffnung

Charles Richardson

Label: Westminster

Release Date: 1973


"I would be so utterly miserable on this island - I get so bored by my own company - that I’d be in desperate need of a laugh.

I would miss Monty Python hugely, and many other comedians such as Peter Cook and Woody Allen; but finally I would have to choose this completely silly collection of interviews with the cartoonist, tuba-player and extreme eccentric, Gerard Hoffnung.

I don’t quite know why it is so utterly, impossibly funny; but it just is. Not everyone will find it so, perhaps; but it still makes me laugh every time - which is ridiculous, since I know every word from memory"


4. Bach - Mass in B Minor

Mass in B Minor

J. S. Bach

John Butt, Director

Dunedin Consort and Players

Label: Linn Records

Release Date: February 23, 2018


"It’s shocking how little of Bach’s choral music I know; but I think I’d go for the Mass, because it’s the one I know the very least of the major works.

Which recording? I don’t know - you’ll have to advise. (One conducted by my friend John Butt, perhaps?)

But I’d HAVE to have some of Bach’s music on the island, since that would, more than anything else, give me the feeling that I wasn’t alone after all - that there was a higher being watching over me"


5. The Beatles - Revolver


The Beatles

Label: Capitol

Release Date: November 13, 2012


"Again, I’d take this because it would bring back my childhood.

One of my earliest memories is of my great-aunt Esme, no less, presenting me with the 45 (do any of your readers know what that was?) single of She Loves You.

From then on until they started to get psychedelic and grow beards - which was beyond my 7-year-old comprehension - I was as obsessed with the Beatles as almost everyone else was.

Nowadays I love most of their albums; in fact, listening to their music is part of my pre-concert routine.

I might choose Revolver - but I’d probably change my mind the day afterwards, and want to go for Rubber Soul or Abbey Road; but by then I’d be stuck on this monstrous piece of waterlogged land - without any Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Dvorak, Faure, and so on.

It’s a monstrous idea - I’m calling my lawyer now.’


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