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CD: Forgotten Records

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Cello Sonata No.1 in E minor Op.38 (1862-65) [20:48]
Cello Sonata No.2 in F Op.99 (1886) [22:36]
Maurice Marchal (cello)
Jeanne-Marie Darr (piano)
rec. February (No.2) and September (No.1), 1952, Thâtre des Champs Elyses
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR 168 [43:27]

Experience Classicsonline

Maurice Marchal was one of the greatest of all French musicians - indeed he was one of the great cellists of the age. His association with Jacques Thibaud was long lived and he was the first call for Thibaud and Cortots trio when Pablo Casals was unavailable. His heyday was between the two world wars, and though he was still playing beautifully thereafter there were fewer opportunities to hear him after this date because, I believe, he developed problems with his bowing arm, and teaching took up much of his time. He made very few records after 1945, though there was a recording of one of Henri Casadesuss amiable forgeries in 1950 and then two years later he recorded both Brahms sonatas with Jeanne-Marie Darr.

This is a major rarity in its LP incarnation. Ive seen astronomical prices quoted for Path DTX127 were talking thousands of pounds and this despite the fact that it has surfaced on at least two Japanese CDs. This last point, at least, shouldnt be surprising. Marchal was very popular in Japan and some of 78s were issued on Nipponophone for domestic consumption. The Japanese remain connoisseurs of string playing to this day.

Its true, thinking of Marchals career, that by the early 1950s the next generation of French and Belgian cellists had already begun to make their mark, perhaps making Marchal look rather old hat; men like Gendron, Navarra, Fournier, and Tortelier. But the older mans recorded swansong at least properly added two pieces to his discography that has thus far escaped it.

Describing string playerss sounds is fraught with potential traps, and this will be no exception, but there was something supremely elegant and woody about Marchals tone. There was great lyricism, a true control of legato, an avoidance of indulgence. His tone production was wonderfully rich and it was not at all like Russian playing; it was taut in tempo but never steely in sound. His First Sonata is therefore kept on the move and whilst purists may baulk at his not taking the first movement recapitulation this at least ensured that each sonata fitted onto one LP side. He and Darr play the Allegrettos trio with charm and timbral wit, and she is given her head in the finale, where the balance rather favours her in its more tempestuous ensembles.

The Second Sonata is again powerfully directional. Those used to somewhat younger performers lets say Rostropovich or Leonard Rose will doubtless be amazed by the sense of passion and drama adopted by the French duo. Its certainly not to minimise technical shortcomings as can sometimes be the case. Rather its strategic and architectural, supported by variegated tone, incisive tempi, and fully contrasted and characterised movements.

Marchals tone has clouded a little since his best days, something not helped by a dry-ish recording that itself can be a touch cloudy. Nevertheless this transfer deals justly with source material, preserving high end hiss and a touch of rumble. Its short timing, of course, given the source material and lack of coupling opportunities, and there are no notes, just web links. But for anyone at all interested in French string playing from this vintage, this autumnal recording, like Thibauds last recordings, is richly rewarding despite the occasional frailty.

Jonathan Woolf


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


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