Post-war solo French cello music might seem something of an esoteric peg on which to stick a recorded hat, but the results here prove consistently interesting. Christophe Pantillon charts the years 1945 to 1982 and adds a new work by a contemporary French composer to extend the lineage well into the twenty-first century.
Honegger’s Paduana is a surviving movement from an uncompleted suite and its flowing Bachian introspection makes one regret its solitariness, even as one admires its construction. From it Pantillon turns to the very different figure of Ibert whose Étude-Caprice for un Tombeau de Chopin isn’t quite what one may have been expecting. There are no obvious quotations and the ethos is at times very remote from that of Chopin – indeed the syntax is often quite serious and strenuous; expressive too in a rather uneasy way, its urgency forming a rather austere carapace. Ghirlarzana followed a year later in 1950, and is short, meditative even, and very much less knotty. Sauguet’s Sonata takes the time-scale to 1956. Its elegant, finely chiselled workmanship is at its most communicative in the slow central movement, a rocking, introspective Andante and in the eerie ‘B’ section of the finale where the windswept tremolandi offer an almost pictorial view. If only the opening movement had been more distinctive, but as it is more cellists should take up this work.
Jolivet’s Suite en Concert consists of five small movements, each offering quite tensile challenges both for the performer and sometimes, too, the listener. The movement titles – Improvisation, Ballade, Air and so on – are rather deceptive as there’s nothing winsome or yielding about much of this rather aloof work. Its lyricism, and it has a deal of lyricism, is on the cool side and the last movement witnesses some vehement bowing. Dutilleux’s Three Strophes on the name Sacher was seven years in the making and the three succinct movements offer a quite wide-ranging offering to Sacher, made more distinctive still by virtue of the unusual cello tuning, which vests the writing with a darker-than-usual quality. Finally there is David Chaillou’s Seul, a monologue that in its quietly gentle way offers both a reflection on - and extension of - the repertoire that Pantillon has already espoused in this recital.
That repertoire is both unusual and under-recorded. Raphael Wallfisch may have recorded the Honegger on Timpani and van Stalen both Ibert pieces on Olympia but there are few really convincing parallels to this recital. Only the Dutilleux has racked up multiple recordings of note - Demenga on ECM, Geringas on Erato, Bertrand on Harmonia Mundi, and Vassilieva on Naxos, though the work is most associated with Rostropovich. As for Christophe Pantillon, he proves a most worthy ambassador throughout, revealing expert stylistic awareness and no little finesse.