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Pierre Fournier - The Aristocrat of Cellists
see end of review for details
Pierre Fournier (cello) with accompaniments as below
rec. 1937-71
EMI CLASSICS ICON 6295392 [7 CDs: 504:35]

Experience Classicsonline


Certainly the title is apt. Fournier was, indeed, an aristocrat among cellists, a musician of absolute refinement whose compelling intensity was derived through subtle increments, not ladled out by the yard. He has been the subject of a number of retrospectives and some important restorations. Many of the recordings included in this 7 CD Icon box will therefore be very familiar - I suppose the Brahms Double with Oistrakh is the most well known - but equally there are some surprises from amongst the discography and some interesting early recordings made either pre-war or during the war itself that might have proved elusive. There are also competing recordings of the same piece - the most extensive is the Rococo Variations - which will allow one to appreciate a different performance, and pianist, and acoustic.
 
Fournier first recorded in 1937. His first major solo undertaking was the Arpeggione sonata with Jean Hubeau, included here, and his first major chamber undertaking the Fauré G minor Piano Quartet with Thibaud, Vieux and Marguerite Long. Readers may well have their own favourite studio or live recordings from his discography and they may, or may not, accord with the selection here. Remember that Fournier recorded for companies other than EMI as well. Major recordings of the Dvořák exist with other conductors - Szell for instance or Georges Sebastian (live) to cite just two. He left behind traversals of the Beethoven sonatas with Gulda and with Kempff, and the Brahms (neither sonata is in this set) with Firkušny.
 
 
I will just be skimming the surface in this review. Listening to these recordings again - or, in a few cases for the first time - reminds me forcefully just how subtle and refined a musician he was, and also how his performances could vary. The Dvořák is a case in point. Here with Kubelík we have what may seem, to some, to be a rather understated approach, lacking in externalised panache. It’s certainly different from the two other performances cited above. Nevertheless it convinces by virtue of its refined chamber intimacies, its tautly moving tempi and its rich sweep. The Schumann Concerto has a similar advantage in that Sargent is the accompanist and, as in the case of the Rococo variations that he also directs, we are assured of an articulate, structure-conscious reading of great imagination. The other Rococo Variations recording, by the way, is a wartime effort with Bigot which is a lot less tidy, if a bit faster. Of the Brahms Double there’s little reason to add more than what has already been noted about this illustrious meeting, presided over by the underrated Alceo Galliera.
 
An accompanist in many ways as fine as Sargent was Walter Susskind and he and Fournier play to each other’s strengths in the Saint-Saëns A minor. Kubelík is on hand again for the Haydn concerto in D, which performance comes in for some ribbing from annotator Tully Potter. This concerns the use of the Gevaert edition, though this was pretty standard in 1951 so I can’t feel too aggrieved about its use. This third disc sees a bonanza of pianist-accompanists - Hubeau in the Arpeggione, Babeth Léonet, and Jacques Février in the Poulenc sonata; the most recent recording, by the way, set down in 1971. The Paris recording of Schumann’s Fantasiestücke with Léonet is in rather rackety sound and it is quite some shock to jump from it to the Poulenc. This last catches perfectly the highly refined melancholy of the writing.
 
The Beethoven sonatas with Schnabel were recorded in 1947-48. At around the same time Szgeti, Primose, Fournier, and Schnabel gave concerts as a flexible ensemble, an association that was not unfortunately captured in the studios, but some fascinating material was recorded off-air - notably Brahms’ Piano Trio in B Op. 8 which has been issued on Arbiter 121. Stack this early post-war set of the Beethovens near the 1959 Gulda and on a par with the Kempff. Such is the artistry and unsentimental authority of the playing that one would simply not wish to do without this set. It’s an ensemble on all altogether different level of engagement to the mismatched Piatigorsky-Solomon duo recording of 1954.
 
The Fauré Piano Quartet can be found in the sixth disc. It’s always been my template. It sported France’s leading string players in Thibaud (ageing, it’s true, and soon to be superseded, if we must allow the quasi-sporting motif, by Francescatti and Neveu) and the magnificent Vieux. Marguerite Long anchors things superbly. There are thankfully quite a few morceaux and charming encore pieces. It would not be a fitting set without them. Some indeed can be heard in multiple performances. Let me note in passing the scuffily recorded but rhythmically charged Stravinsky Chanson russe with Tasso Janopoulo, Thibaud’s sometime accompanist. I suppose disc seven, recorded with Gerald Moore in 1957, reveals this kind of art in all its glory. One performance after another illustrates just why Fournier was so admired and loved as an artist. From the noble Bach Chorale Prelude realisations, through that bumblebee, to two pieces by Granados (one in Fournier’s arrangement, the other in Cassadó’s) everything is well nigh perfect.
 
A number of items in this set appeared in the 4 CD box called ‘Les Introuvables de Pierre Fournier’ put out by French EMI [5 69708 2] - principally the Beethoven sonatas with Schnabel, the Schumann and Haydn concertos, Rococo variations, Arpeggione sonata, some Fauré items, the Lili Boulanger, and all of disc 7, though this last hasn’t undergone any subsequent transfer restoration so far as I can tell. There is a vast 18 CD Art of Pierre Fournier box, released in Japan [DG Japan POCC 9711-28 447665-2] that complements this EMI one, should Fournier be your ardent focus of desire.  
 
As for the engineering I do, where comparison exists, prefer the ‘Les Introuvables’ transfers which bear a degree more surface noise but are more aerated and open. It’s not a vast difference however. Given the cheapness of this set I wouldn’t want to put off anyone, who has yet to experience it, hearing Fournier across a wide spectrum of repertoire in performances as noble, selfless and wonderful as are these.
 
Jonathan Woolf 

Track listing
CD 1 [77:04]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Cello Concerto in A minor op.129 (1850) [26:01]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent, rec. 1956
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Variations on a Rococo Theme in A major op.33 (1877) [17:54]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent, rec. 1956
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Double Concerto in A minor op.102 (1887) [33:01]
David Oistrakh (violin)/Philharmonia Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent, rec. 1956
CD 2 [73:04]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto in B minor B191 op.104 (1895) [37:52]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Rafael Kubelik, rec. 1948
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Cello Concerto No.1 in A Minor op.33 (1872) [18:42]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Walter Susskind, rec. 1947
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Variations on a Rococo Theme in A Major op.33 (1877) [16:19]
Orchestre de l’Association des Concerts Lamoureux/Eugène Bigot, rec.1941
CD 3 [77:03]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Cello Concerto No.2 in D major HobVIIb:2 (1783) [25:22]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Rafael Kubelik, rec. 1951
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A Minor D821 (1824) [17:10]
Jean Hubeau (piano) rec. 1937
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasiestücke op.73 (1849) [11:24]
Babeth Léonet (piano) rec. 1946
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Sonata for Cello and Piano FP143 [23:15]
Jacques Février (piano) rec. 1971
CD 4 [75:53]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata for Cello and Piano No.1 in F major op.5/1 (1796) [20:23]
Sonata for Cello and Piano No.2 in G minor op.5/2 (1796) [21:31]
Sonata for Cello and Piano No.3 in A major op.69 (1808) [24:48]
Artur Schnabel (piano) rec. 1947-48
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Abendlied op.85 No.12 [2:59]
Tasso Janopoulo (piano) rec. 1946
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Feldeinsamkeit op.86 No.2 [3:24]
Marthe Pellas-Lenom (piano) rec. 1942
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)
2 Melodies op.3: No.1 in F major [2:45]
Gerald Moore (piano) rec. 1946
CD 5 [56:37]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata for Cello and Piano No.4 in C major op.102/1 (1815) [14:55]
Sonata for Cello and Piano No.5 in D major op.102/2 (1815) [20:30]
Artur Schnabel (piano) rec. 1947
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Organ Concerto No.3 - Recitativo, after Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) arr. Fournier [4:26]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Sonata for cello and double bass - Minuet [3:48]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Abendied op.85 No.12 [3:21]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Violin Sonata No.3 op.10 No.3 - Larghetto arr. Piatigorsky [2:33]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Elegie [6:58]
Gerald Moore (piano) rec. 1957
CD 6 [66:10]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Piano Quartet No.2 in G Minor op.4 (1886) [33:15]
Jacques Thibaud (violin); Maurice Vieux (viola): Marguerite Long (piano), rec. 1940
Romance in A op.69 [3:55]
Tasso Janopoulo (piano) rec. 1946
Elegie op.24 [6:50]
Berceuse op.16 [3:45]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pièce en forme de habanera [2:59]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Rêverie, transc. Fournier [3:38]
Ernest Lush (piano) rec. 1951
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Carnaval des animaux: Le Cygne [3:13]
Gerald Moore (piano) rec. 1946
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Shylock - Nocturne [2:34]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Mavra - Chanson Russe [3:08]
Tasso Janopoulo (piano) rec. 1943
Lili BOULANGER (1893-1918)
Nocturne [2:51]
Ernest Lush (piano), rec. 1951
CD 7 [78:44]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Introduction and Polonaise brillant op.3 [9:13]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Song without words op.109 [4:05]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Le Coq d'Or [4:36]
The Tale of Tsar Saltan - The Flight of the Bumble-Bee (arr. Strimer) [1:14]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Le Carnaval des animaux - Le Cygne [2:57]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Berceuse op.16 [3:58]
Papillon op.77 [3:02]
Sicilienne op.78 [3:53]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Tonadillas al estilo antiguo : El majo timido arr. Fournier [2:36]
Goyescas: Intermezzo arr. Gaspar Cassadó [4:50]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
La Gitana arr. Fournier [3:30]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
L' Enfant prodigue - Prelude arr. Rogues [2:50]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pièce en forme de habanera arr. Bazelaire [2:46]
2 Melodies hébraïque: No.1 Kaddisch trans. Garban [5:12]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Orgel-Buchlein BWV599-644
O Mensch bewein' dein' Sunde gross BWV622 arr. Fournier [4:25]
Chorale Preludes BWV714-40
Herzlich tut mich verlangen BWV727 arr. Fournier [2:36]
Ich ruf' zu dir BWV639 [3:17]
Num komm' der Heiden Heiland BWV599 [5:11]
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Sonata for Cello and Continuo No.6 G - Adagio and Allegro arr. Piatti [8:27]
Gerald Moore (piano), rec. 1957

 


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