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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    


BARGAIN OF THE MONTH

André CAPLET (1878-1925)
Épiphanie (1923) [20.24]

Edouard LALO (1823-1892)

Cello Concerto (1876) [25.13]

Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)

Élégie (1879) [6.46]
Xavier Phillips (cello)
Bayerische Kammerphilharmonie/Emmanuel Plasson
Rec. April 1999, Angelika-Kauffmann-Saal, Schwarzenberg, Vorarlberg, Austria
EMI Début series
EMI CLASSICS 5 73503 2 [52.51]



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The sound on this disc is big, beefy and gripping without cheating on refinement in the less demonstrative moments - as in the Iberian thistledown Intermezzo of the Lalo. The Lalo Concerto is endearing without being very deep. At surface it is provocative. The Prélude is almost Beethovenian and uncannily predictive of the romantically propulsive gestures of the Dvořák concerto of almost two decades later. The Lalo has been recorded by all manner of cellists: Ma (Sony), Harrell (Decca), Haimowitz (DG), Starker (Mercury), Sophie Rolland (ASV), Noras (Finlandia), Dupré (EMI), Anne Gastinel (Auvidis), Ofra Harnoy (RCA) amongst others but going by my memories of the Harrell and Harnoy Xavier Phillips has little to fear in comparison with any of these. The work can be thought of as a cello counterpart to the Glazunov violin concerto. Its melodic qualities are at their best in the first two movements. In the finale the invention is rather slender though Lalo makes instinctively creative use of the Hispanic accent established in the Intermezzo. Unlike the Symphonie Espagnole Lalo sticks to the orthodox ration of three movements. Contrast this work with the succulently rounded and impassioned damask-tones of the Fauré Élégie.

The Caplet Épiphanie stands head and shoulders above the other two works. It is a work of the Twentieth Century both chronologically and in musical essence. Gravitas and fantasy meet in these pages in a way that reaches out towards the Dutilleux concerto. The music peers at you in a sharply detailed focus that partakes of Ravel (Rhapsodie Espagnole not Daphnis) and Frank Bridge (Oration rather than Summer). It was Bridge’s Oration (subtitled Concerto Elegiaco) that comes to mind most often. I have played this disc time after time and am still wondering at Épiphanie’s resiliently fine and memorable qualities. It is psychologically profound music. Disturbing waves radiate through the music and there are moments, especially towards the end of the Cortège, where Caplet speaks of tortured emotions of a type later explored by Miklós Rózsa in his Jules Dassin films. The final Danse is urgently and darkly jazzy and overhung. The three sections are played without break. Épiphanie was described by the composer as a ‘Fresque’ and subtitled ‘d’après une légende éthiopienne’. It was written only two years before the composer’s sudden death as a result of wounds and gas poisoning of the lungs suffered while serving as a poilu during the Great War. I have already mentioned Oration. I detect a very strong spiritual resemblance between this work and Bridge’s masterpiece. Both seem driven by a desperately active imagination in which funereal thoughts are to the fore.. That quick-rattling remorseless snare-drum accompaniment, as persistent as the ostinato in Sibelius’s Nightride and Sunrise, speaks of bleaker things in the Cadence than the claimed programmatic association: the journey of the Magi to Bethlehem.

This is not Épiphanie’s first recording. That honour fell to Frédéric Lodéon who recorded the work for Erato in the very early 1980s. This was STU71368S and the coupling was the Lalo concerto. The orchestra was the Philharmonia conducted by Charles Dutoit. The LP was awarded the Diapason d’Or. As far as I can see that recording has not found its way onto CD. It would be interesting to compare the two.

It is to Xavier Phillips’ and EMI’s great credit that they chose to record the Caplet. Let us hope that this is not the last time this cellist will play the piece or venture into uncharted waters. Yo-Yo Ma launched his career with the Lyrita recording of the Finzi Cello Concerto (Lyrita and needless to say still on vinyl with no sign of CD in prospect). As far as I am aware those 1978 studio sessions are the only occasions when Mr Ma performed the Finzi. Parisian-born M. Phillips should surely go on to record the Florent Schmitt Introduction, Récit et Congé - also for cello and orchestra - a work gloriously performed by André Navarra and Anne Gastinel. In fact it is something of a disappointment that opportunity was not taken to add that extremely fine work to this collection. After all the playing time is only 52.51.

Phillips is very strongly rendered by Michael Kempff and Gerhard Gruber. There are good notes by Michael Jameson.

An outstanding disc made so not merely by Xavier Phillips’ brilliance of execution but by the imaginatively volatile Caplet. About as far away from the salon as you could possibly get. Do not miss it. This is certainly not a disc of interest only to cellophiles.


Rob Barnett



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