These performances are quite unnecessary. There is a certain
sameness to cellist Ina-Esther Joost Ben-Sasson’s playing
which is frankly hard to believe: little attention is given to
making a series of notes sound like a phrase, no playing is softer
, dynamic changes are made (when they
are made at all) suddenly rather than gradually. The music is
effectively liberated of its emotion. This is what Gabriel Fauré’s
music sounds like if played by a beginning cellist still too
worried about sticking the notes to concentrate on expressing
More’s the pity because the soloist here, Ina-Esther Joost
Ben-Sasson, is in fact one of the most important cellists in
Israel, where she has held the first chair of the Jerusalem Symphony
Orchestra for twenty years. One of her teachers was Pierre Fournier.
But, no matter how extensive her pedigree, I simply cannot bring
myself to like these downright chilly performances. Consider
: the melancholy opening line is a mere string
of notes, not a melody, and what follows is unsubtle and passionless.
Or listen to the finale of the First Cello Sonata
which Joost Ben-Sasson’s inability to play softly does
considerable harm to Fauré’s expressive writing.
Pianist Allan Sternfield does his best to compensate with tasteful,
elegant accompaniment, but his efforts are not enough.
Why do I use the word “unnecessary” to describe this
album? Its publisher, Naxos, released a superb compilation of
Fauré’s cello sonatas just last year, featuring
the world-class soloist Maria Kliegel and her longtime accompanist,
Nina Tichman (8.557889 - see review
). Kliegel has always been
an emotive performer willing to let her instrument sing, and
romantic, deeply felt core of this music. The beautiful Elegie
the best place to compare the two discs: listen to this Joost
Ben-Sasson performance first, then put on the Kliegel and marvel
at her more sensitive touch, her richer tone, and most of all
the way in which this feels not merely like music at a recital
but like an actual elegy, dressed in the colours of mourning.
Listen to how marvelously Kliegel reduces the second statement
of the opening theme to near-silence, a hushed echo of the original.
Joost Ben-Sasson seemingly cannot be bothered.
Or take the charming Papillon
, or the Romance
here Joost Ben-Sasson is in better form, but switching to the
Kliegel recordings reveals once again that Kliegel is on an entirely
different level. Ben-Sasson is playful and brash; Kliegel, in
contrast, teases, seduces and lingers over select phrases just
enough to make one’s ears perk up. Comparison also reveals
the fact that Joost Ben-Sasson is rather too closely miked, and
sometimes her playing can take on the nasal quality for which
the cello is often - but usually unfairly - criticized.
There are many other wonderful recordings of this music. Steven
Isserlis on RCA, Frédéric Lodéon on
EMI, and Paul Tortelier on Warner Apex are among the fine cellists
to have tackled some or all of the repertoire on this disc. I
focus on the comparison with Maria Kliegel’s outstanding
recording, however, because the naturalness, refinement and beautiful
tone of Kliegel’s playing stands in such contrast to this
effort, and because the two performances are both to be had at
the Naxos price. Naxos almost never duplicates repertoire - this
is a label which has only made one recording of the Mendelssohn
Violin Concerto, for instance - so why they have chosen to release
a second set of Fauré’s music for cello and piano,
a year after the first, is beyond me, especially when the first
is so obviously superior. I am sure Ina-Esther Joost Ben-Sasson
had the best of intentions in making this album, and I do not
wish to criticize the fine effort of accompanist Allan Sternfield,
but these recordings are simply unnecessary. Where Kliegel plays
with heart, Joost Ben-Sasson goes through the motions. And the
difference in sound quality is substantial as well.
As a part of the Naxos Digital imprint, this album is currently
only available for download at the website Classicsonline
it sells for rather less than the price of a physical compact
disc. But please do yourself a favor by finding the extra few
pennies and buying the Kliegel album instead.