Arts & Events

AROUND AND ABOUT MUSIC: Steven Isserlis, Cello, with Philharmonia Baroque at First Congregational Church, Saturday & Sunday

Ken Bullock
Thursday October 09, 2014 - 10:05:00 PM

"He must have been the gentlest composer. The most gorgeous texture ... for me the music of angels," said virtuoso cellist Steven Isserlis before playing Boccherini's Concerto for Violincello No. 7 in G major (probably from the 1760s) with Philharmonia Baroque under Nicholas McGegan's direction on Wednesday night at SFJAZZ in San Francisco--the second of two concerti he played with brilliance and great feeling. The same program will be performed this Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 7:30, First Congregational Church in Berkeley. 

The first of the two, C. P. E. Bach's Concerto for Violincello in A major (1753?), was a triumph in particular for Isserlis, not only a vehicle for the elasticity of his playing and unusual sense of dynamics, contrast, color and modulation, but also for his seeming ability to almost effortlessly bring out the profundity of a piece. Afterwards he spoke of C. P. E. Bach's modernity of style, and sandwiched between two familiar Haydn Symphonies, No. 57 in D major and No. 67 in F major, the Bach concerto was all but a startling tour-de-force, except for Isserlis' extreme concentration on the heart of it, achieving a sense of pure song on his instrument. 

Philharmonia played the Haydn symphonies delightfully, with freshness of approach, their hallmark. With Isserlis in the concerti between, they achieved even more. This program is something that should be heard, a concert that stands out, even from Philharmonia's usual brilliance. 

And on Saturday at 4, Isserlis and Philharmonia will appear in a family concert, free, at 4 p. m. at First Congregational, "Steven isserlis & the Three C's: Classical Cello Concertos." Isserlis has played much for and with children, as well as authoring books for young readers like 'Why Beethoven Threw the Stew' and 'Why Handel Waggled His Wig,' both from Faber & Faber. 

First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way at Dana, $25-$100.