SILENT WOODS: THE HEART OF THE CELLO

Mischa Maisky

***1/2

In a recent concert with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, British cellist Steven Isserlis took the stage and proceeded to bewitch everyone with a deeply felt version of Tchaikovsky's Andante Cantabile. Its charm, its sentiment, its romantic allure were irresistible. He followed that with an equally deeply felt version of Carl Vine's very different piece, Inner Worlds for cello and pre-recorded cello — a wild post-modern romp with chaos. The cello is too often restricted to an elegiac emotional register but with these two contrasting pieces we were treated to an unusual study in the depth and breadth of the cello's possibilities.

The new Mischa Maisky compilation Silent Woods: The Heart Of The Cello gives us a very rich set of treats from a very fine artist. However, it sits firmly at that familiar romantic, elegiac end of the spectrum.

"When a string player is good," Maisky once told an interviewer, "the sound comes from the hand through the instrument; when they're very good the sound originates in their mind. But great artists have a sound in their heart, which then passes through their mind to the instrument … It's that quality which attracts me."

It's an evocative, if traditional, image and belies the Russian cellist's romantic personality that firmly comes across in his music. He produces a very rich, deep and powerful tone that is never less than beautiful, and often hauntingly so.

The two-CD compilation consists mainly of short excerpts, rather than complete works, but is intelligently programmed to allow for a natural sense of flow between the pieces. The first CD ends with Tchaikovsky's Variations On A Rococo Theme in full and here we see Maisky's ability not only to play hauntingly but to shape the architecture of a work through responsive and varied tone and tempo.

The second CD contains work for cello and piano and showcases Maisky's partnerships with Daria Hovora, Paval Gililov and Martha Argerich. The mood here is perhaps even softer and more elegiac than on the first disc but the dynamic play between cello and piano introduces a vibrancy and uplifting sense of dialogue.

It is hard not to be won over by these CDs although the sense of haunted romanticism throughout could profitably have been leavened with the occasional appearance of something slightly tarter.

 Marcus O'Donnell originally published in Sydney Star Observer