BWW Review: STEVEN ISSERLIS & ROBERT LEVIN Entrance at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
In the memory of Isabella Stewart Gardner, Steven Isserlis and Robert Levin proved faultless, performing the first of two all-Beethoven programs at Boston's prestigious Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Opening in 1903, her museum would be "for the education and enjoyment of the public forever," said Gardner. The redistribution of wealth through public education is arguably one of the most important actions on behalf of the ongoing class struggle in America. Gardner herself referred to the hoarders as "squillionaires".
Foremost, classical musicians are heroic for enlivening one of the founding cultural traditions of Western civilization through performance and education. For this reason, British concert cellist Steven Isserlis is doubly valued. Adored by fans who unsurprisingly line up to greet him during his often short-lived American stops per touring season, the bulk of his career has been spent in Europe.
Isserlis, a soloist, chamber musician, educator, author, and broadcaster, has a special talent to impart his love and discipline to young people. Often, his appearances are accompanied by special concerts for children, performed now for many years, such as with his most recent recital at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.
One of two living cellists featured in Gramophone's Hall of Fame, he performs mostly on a 1726 Stradivarius. This season he will perform a special recital with Beethoven's own cello, last played in public 50 years ago, which, coincidentally, is when Isserlis first began his musical training in Britain.
The selections consisted of the 12 variations on "See the Conquering Hero Comes" from Handel's Judas Maccabeus, Cello Sonata No. 1 in F Major, Op. 5 No. 1, 12 variations on "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen" from The Magic Flute, Op. 66, Sonata in F Major for Piano and Horn, Op. 17, and Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major, Op. 69.
Isserlis commanded the genius of an epoch-making dramatist onstage, perceivably enacting the creative moment, as in the mind of Beethoven when he composed. The true performance art of classical music is realized in the ease of Isserlis, who sways with a lofty passion, searching for the originality of the inspiration that gave birth to such incredible music so as to understand how the essential sound is best grasped.
Levin performed with an intuitive mastery glorified by his intensive scholarship as a chaired Harvard professor, world-acclaimed concert pianist and award-winning recording artist. As he writes for Min-Ad a scholarly journal published by the Israel Musicological Society, "...it was Mozart's abilities as improviser that earned him legendary status, outshining even his reputation as the finest pianist of his time."
At one point in the concert, the two impeccable musical souls stopped playing and serendipitously spoke at the same time, mirroring the musical dynamics with laughter. Prompted by three sonatas and variations on Handel and Mozart, Levin and Isserlis performed one of the liveliest interpretations of classical culture.
Photo Credit: Steve Hockstein