What a versatile artist Steven Isserlis is. Having made his name as a sympathetic interpreter of a wide variety of romantic and modern music, here he shows he can be just as persuasive in eighteenth-century repertoire. His stylistic awareness is evident in beautiful, elegant phrasing, selective use of vibrato and varied articulation, giving an expressive range that never conflicts with the music’s natural language. In the cello concertos he is helped by an extremely sensitive accompaniment, stressing the chamber musical aspects of Haydn’s pre-London orchestral writing. The soft, intimate sonority at 3'06'' in the first movement of the D major is a typical example. The Adagios are taken at a flowing speed, but Isserlis’s relaxed approach means they never sound hurried. The Allegro molto finale of the C major Concerto, on the other hand, sounds poised rather than the helter-skelter we often hear. In his understanding of the music, Isserlis is a long way ahead of Han-na Chang, whose version places the emphasis on fine, traditional-style cello playing. Mork’s vivacious, imaginative performances characterize the music very strongly, but my preference would be for Isserlis’s and Norrington’s lighter touch and greater refinement.
Since the composition of The Protecting Veil in 1987, the cello has played an important role in John Tavener's music. Even when he was writing for instruments during the 1989-1995 period when the music on Svyati originated, Tavener's works carried strong overtones of Russian Orthodox church services, and the cello here, as Tavener himself points out, sometimes seems to stand in for the voice of a priest. These pieces have been recorded before, but cellist Steven Isserlis, who premiered The Protecting Veil and some of the works included here, sheds valuable light on this phase of Tavener's career by bringing them together on one disc.