Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849) 1846 - The last year at Nohant
Barcarolle, Op. 60 [9:20]
Three Mazurkas, Op. 63 [6:13]
Cello Sonata, Op. 65 [31:19]
Three Waltzes, Op. 64 [8:54]
Mazurka Op. 67 No. 4 [3:21]
Two Nocturnes, Op. 62 [13:22]
Pascal Amoyel (piano) Emmanuelle Bertrand (cello)
rec. 2014, Teldex Studio, Berlin HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902199 [72:30]
Pianist Pascal Amoyel and cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand have come up with a novel idea for a recital: they focus on the summer of 1846, the last year that Chopin spent happily with his lover George Sand. Holed up in Nohant, a country home so remote it is not even in a wine region, Chopin wrote, started, or completed the diverse works on this disc. They represent a fascinating X-ray of his output.
You have three waltzes, including the legendary C-sharp minor and the equally legendary “Minute”. You have the Barcarolle, which Chopin finished that summer, with its surprisingly large-scale evocation of a Venetian gondola song. There are mazurkas, nocturnes, and, right in the middle of it all, the cello sonata, which despite its size has long had a reputation as the runt in Chopin’s mature output.
Amoyel and Bertrand have been performing and recording together for years; this is at least their eighth Harmonia Mundi album together. Here, Amoyel takes the lead for the first time in this collaboration; he has a couple of solo La Dolce Volta albums, too. Amoyel makes for a good, though not world-beating, Chopin interpreter: every solo performance is at least solid, and usually very good, with no real lapses in taste, judgment or technical ability. The two nocturnes are very good but, yes, there could have been more boldness in the climaxes of the Barcarolle, or a more pronounced personality in some of the mazurkas.
Luckily the cello sonata anchors the disc, all 31 minutes of it. Emmanuelle Bertrand is a very expressive cellist, with a dark, singing tone perfectly suited to Chopin. It’s a great performance, and one that emphasizes the sonata’s mournful elements. Across 16 minutes - including the very big exposition repeat - the first movement is taken at a broad tempo which comes close to being a nocturne. If you prefer this movement more “Allegro moderato”, as it is marked, you may object, but I find it a valid interpretation. The rest is less eccentric, but just as expressive.
Recorded sound is good, though the piano sometimes is a touch over-bright. Whether this interests you will largely depend on your fondness for Emmanuelle Bertrand. She’s a very good cellist, and you may find that her half-hour contribution plus the general quality of Pascal Amoyel’s pianism make this a worthwhile investment. There are a lot of Chopin CDs out there, though, many of them better than this. For the collector.