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Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Suite Française (after Claude Gervaise, arranged Poulenc 1953 from the chamber suite, 1935) [11.04]
Two Song Arrangements (1943 arranged John York, 2003)
C’est ainsi que tu es (No.2 of Métamorphoses de Louise de Vilmorin) [1.59]
C (No.1 of Deux poèmes de Louis Aragon) [2.20]
Sérénade (No 8 of Chansons gaillardes 1925-26 transcribed Maurice Gendron 1950) [2.19]
Sonata for Cello and piano (1949) [22.27]
Sonata for two pianos (1952-53) [21.12]*
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
John York (piano)
York 2 Piano Duet (John and Fiona York)*
Recorded at Champs Hill, Pulborough, Sussex in June 2000 except the Sonata for two pianos, recorded in St George’s Brandon Hill, Bristol, May 2000
ASV GOLD GLD 4014 [62.28]

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There are now quite a number of recordings of the Cello Sonata in the catalogue but an all-cello Poulenc recital disc is very much a rarity. And this isn’t quite that, anyway, since we have the Sonata for two pianos to augment the sonata, and some evocative and very worthwhile transcriptions. The Suite Française derives from the chamber suite of 1935 that Poulenc revised nearly twenty years later and the Sérénade is heard in the 1950 Maurice Gendron transcription. Pianist John York, present throughout in his guise as Wallfisch’s sonata partner and as one half of the York2 Piano Duo, contributes his own arrangements of two Poulenc songs, and very effective they are too (one is from Métamorphoses de Louise de Vilmorin). So the disc is a good hour’s worth of nostalgic, acerbic, witty and naughty, in pretty much equal proportions, not forgetting of course, as if one could, Poulenc’s irresistible ear for melodic beauty.

The Suite Française summons up the sixteenth century dances of Claude Gervaise and their antique strain is both highly compressed and lyrically charming. Wallfisch is particularly effective in vesting a wide range of glinting tone colours in the Compleinte, the fourth of the seventh, in which melancholy hovers heard but not indulged. The fifth, a Bransle de Champagne, has the vocalised strength of an aria antiche. Of the two York song arrangements the first, C’est ainsi que tu es, makes an especial impression with its telling melancholy lyricism though both are very worthwhile additions to the literature of Poulenc transcriptions.

The Sonata for two pianos is captured by the York2 piano duo with fervour; the tense tolling and dramatic chording of the first movement give way to well judged limpidity and considerable delicacy when the same material appears in less fervid form later on. And that second movement kicks in with pulsating vigour before a still, silent reverie exerts its hypnotic hold – for a brief instant. The highlight though is the third movement, with its noble burnish and romanticism and some intense moments of intimate reflection, excellently conveyed here.

Wallfisch and York offer a communicative and aristocratic performance of the Cello sonata. The cellist’s tone offers subtle colouristic hues and they rarely stint on the air of affection and animation that underpins this generally light hearted work. On a rival disc Paul Watkins and Ian Brown (Hyperion – with the complete chamber music on two discs played by the Nash Ensemble; CDA67255/6 review) offer a similar kind of reading but one that differs in detail, though not in tempo, which is almost identical. Watkins and Brown perhaps mine the pawky humour of the sonata with more explicitness, making contrasts that much tauter and bigger than the Wallfisch-York duo. But the latter’s rather more heavyweight presentation certainly does justice to the lyric core of the sonata and both performances can be seen as complementary.

Of course the archive should have the canonic cello sonata recording made by dedicatee Fournier and Jacques Février. You can find one of its incarnations on a big EMI box 566831-2 along with six hours of Poulenc, amongst which you’ll also find the Tacchino-Février two piano sonata recording.

The recording at Champs Hill is just a touch cavernous but it’s suitably warm and catches the playing well.

Jonathan Woolf


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