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Hommage à Maurice Maréchal
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Élégie (1880) [6:52]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Cello Sonata No.1, Op.38 (1862) [27:45]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Cello Sonata (1915) [11:33]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Cello Sonata, H.32 (1920) [14:25]
Alain Meunier (cello)
Anne Le Bozec (piano)
rec. July 2013
HORTUS 703 [60:40]

This is volume three of a series called ‘Les Musiciens et la Grande Guerre’, presented in a strong card format. Its purpose is to anthologise music composed during the conflict of the First World War, or shortly before, or shortly after. That, clearly, doesn’t wholly apply throughout the series and it certainly doesn’t apply to Brahms, represented here by his Op.38 Cello Sonata, but this particular release is a salute to the cellist Maurice Maréchal, who served in the army in the First World War and whose famous ‘trench cello’ still exists, though is too fragile to play.
Given the conflicting programming aims involved – First World War or Maréchal or the combination of the two, as represented by the 1915 Debussy Sonata? – it might be best to take a simple, sober look at the performances even as one slightly unshackles them from the whole concept.
Alain Meunier was a student of Maréchal in Paris and in his booklet ‘homage’ to his erstwhile teacher writes affectionately and perceptively, if briefly, about his time as his student. All the four works were important parts of Maréchal’s repertoire and a couple were strongly identified with him. Fauré’s Elégie is played with eloquent and unsentimental control by Meunier and Anne Le Bozec, who plays on an 1888 Bechstein especially selected for these recording sessions. Yet turn to Meunier’s teacher, in his 1928 recording, and we find more of a cortege melancholy in the opening paragraphs, and that inimitable woody tone and dynamic gradients vesting the music with melancholy depth – and also breadth. Unusually, Maréchal is slower than Meunier, who sounds a touch off-hand as a result.
The Bechstein makes its mark in the Brahms sonata where the treble really pings and where the chording is sufficiently clear in the fugal passages in the allegro finale. Tempi are sensible and the ensemble, as one would expect of a well-established duo, excellent. The Debussy Sonata is strongly associated with Maréchal. André Caplet brought the score with him to the front where the cellist played it through and Maréchal also played it for Debussy during his leaves from the front. His tempi hardly wavered at all. His classic recording with Robert Casadesus is the greatest made – if one can be so definitive - but when he was taped live with Lily Bienvenu in 1948 tempi were almost identical. Like everyone these days Meunier and Le Bozec are significantly slower, rendering the legato too languid, and the twists and turns just a bit too predictable. However the transition to the finale is beautifully judged and Meunier coils his tone perceptively when necessary. Honegger’s Sonata dates from 1920 and Maréchal was a great admirer and taught it frequently to his students. His recording of the Concerto is famous but he never recorded the sonata. It receives some of the best playing in the disc, where the cellist retains body of tone even in the higher positions – some ungrateful – that Honegger demands. The rapport between the two musicians is excellent and the music’s intensity is conveyed with considerable skill.
Appreciating the conceptual nature of the disc as I do, I still think it’s better to see this is a recital project, and precisely the kind of programme that Maréchal might have given. With good documentation and recorded sound, Meunier and Le Bozec turn in creditable performances without question, though they are not at the front rank.
Jonathan Woolf