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Edouard LALO (1823 – 1892)
Concerto in D minor for cello and orchestra, (1877)
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 – 1921)

Concerto in D minor for cello and orchestra, (1872)
André Navarra (cello)
Lamoureux Orchestra/Charles Munch.
recorded April 1965 in the Église Notre Dame, Paris. ADD
WARNER APEX 2564 60709-2 [45.49]


This is a disc in Warner’s budget range and in spite of only playing for a measly 46 minutes it is well worth looking out for and buying. Often one buys a disc for the soloist or the conductor. Here it is worth buying equally for both participants.

These are fairly elderly performances, although by the quality of the recording, it is very difficult to tell. They were originally from the Erato stable and were issued on vinyl to general acclaim. The venue which one would expect to be unduly lively is not betrayed. It seems likely that the sessions were recorded with the microphones fairly close. The sound is very immediate for both soloist and orchestra, with the balance between the two being managed very well. The considerable Notre Dame echo is suppressed quite effectively.

André Navarra does not have an extensive discography, but what he does have is superb. Apart from a few discs of cello solos and other chamber music, his concerto repertoire is represented principally by an Elgar with Barbirolli, a Brahms Double with Joseph Suk/Ančerl on Supraphon, and two very fine Dvořáks, one live in Prague and the other with Schwarz on Testament. Those who know this artist’s legacy will no doubt remember the intensity of his playing style and the way he digs into the melodies to extract maximum impact. So it is on this CD, with the soloist aided and abetted with similarly passionate playing by the Lamoureux Orchestra under Charles Munch.

The disc opens with the Saint-Saëns which positively leaps into the sound arena. Navarra’s playing exhibits a clarity of playing, with almost perfect pitching and minimal vibrato except where absolutely necessary. The first movement fairly bubbles along, making Saint-Saëns’ writing for cello seem more substantial than usual. The slow movement is not really a slow movement but in fact an Allegretto con moto. The lyricism is perfectly caught by soloist and orchestra alike. The early staccato playing of the orchestra has just a hint of vibrato to conjure up the right atmosphere to usher in Navarra’s entry.

The finale returns to the tempo of the first movement and progresses with soloist and orchestra weaving in and out of the sound picture to perfection. The themes in the finale are also reminiscent of the themes in the first movement. The finale ends with some staccato chords. Here, the acoustic of the cathedral is clearly evident in the slow dying away of the sound. How impressive this performance would have sounded to those present on the day of the recording.

The concerto by Lalo is less well known, but none the worse for that. In a performance like this, it may well become better known than before. In the past, the only recording of this concerto which I actually liked was that of Pierre Fournier on DG. It is no small praise to say that this performance can run it very close. Lalo’s command of melody is less assured than that of Saint-Saëns, but this is of little matter when the commitment of the playing is so clearly evident. The slow movement particularly is beautiful and Navarra’s playing is full of sensitivity and clarity.

The classical repertoire of concerti for cello is relatively small. These two works played with this level of passion and exuberance are extremely welcome. Munch’s accompaniment is absolutely first class, and he appears to be able to galvanise the Lamoureux Orchestra into playing which is both committed and alive at all times.

Well done Warner Apex but next time please add some more music to fill the disc up properly!

John Phillips


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