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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Sonata for cello and piano (originally for violin and piano)

Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)

Sonata for cello and piano No.1 in D minor Op.109

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Sonata for cello and piano
Arto Noras, cello
Bruno Rigutto, piano
Recorded at Järvenpää Hall, Finland in November 1995
TELDEC APEX 0927 40599 2 [56.26]
Bargain price


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Although renowned as an organist and pedagogue in his Parisian days, the Belgian César Franck’s later years, from 1880, produced his most memorable and popular compositions, such as the Symphonic Variations (1885), the Symphony in D minor (1888), the String Quartet (1889), and the Violin Sonata (1886). This last mentioned work was arranged for cello, not by Franck, but by his publisher after his death because the composer apparently intended to write a work for cello. Originally written for the violinist Ysaÿe, it works fairly well for cello though loses something of its sunny nature at the lower pitch. The other two works on this attractive disc were conceived for the instrument, the first of them by Fauré. He wrote two sonatas for the cello, both of them late works, and this is the first written in 1917. Essentially a Romantic work, it is nevertheless steeped in the classical approach of his mentor Saint-Saëns rather than the impressionistic music being produced at the time by Ravel and Debussy (he even outlived the latter by six years). It’s not the harmonic language of the familiar Requiem, but remains tuneful and highly expressive. Fauré became deaf towards the end of his life and his music has a reflective inner sadness, especially in the tender slow movement of this sonata, but the passionate finale releases the tension at several glorious climaxes. Debussy’s cello sonata was written in the middle of the First World War (1915) at Pourville, after a year of creative sterility. It heralded a final spurt before the cancer against which he was battling, killed him three years later, and he decided to write six sonatas for various instrumental combinations, of which only half saw the light of day, this cello sonata, one for flute, viola and harp, and a violin sonata. He initially gave the cello sonata the subtitle ‘Pierrot is angry at the moon’, perhaps the whimsical second movement Sérénade with its pizzicato, harmonics, and flexible sense of tempo is the explanation (he later thought better and withdrew the description).

Arto Noras is a fine cellist with an evident affinity for these works. He paints his tone colours with a broad brush, producing not only technically assured playing but also a wide range of emotional moods. The higher register of the instrument avoids any wiry sound despite my reservations about the transcription of the Franck, it feels far more natural in the Fauré sonata where the instrument soars up the A string. Accompanist Bruno Rigutto provides full-bodied support, always discreet, taking full advantage of the solos where he should. The start of Debussy’s sonata is particularly impressive, boldly dramatic before the Prélude’s slow section. The partnership of these two musicians is a natural one based on a fine sense of striving for detail and balance, and significantly more so in the Debussy than in the other two works. The sound is bright, the recording quality excellent. This is a worthy disc of the lesser known repertoire for cello, providing a snapshot of French cello music as the Romantic era faded from view.

Christopher Fifield


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