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Paul BAZELAIRE (1886–1958)
Complete works for cello and piano
Deux pièces; Op. 109 [4:18]
Burlesque, Op. 110 [7:49]
Cache-cache, Op. 111 [1:13]
Aria, Op. 112 [6:36]
Deux images lointaines,, Op. 113 [6:04]
Suite française sur des airs populaires,, Op. 114 [7:46]
Berceuse chinoise, Op. 115 [2:58]
Rapsodie dans le style russe
, Op. 117 [7:51]
Funérailles, Op. 120 [4:14]
Suite italienne,, Op. 122 (16-18) [7:52]
Prélude en ut mineur, Op. 123 [2:55]
Morceau de concours (Prélude – Sicilienne – Final), Op. 124 [5:59]
Variations sur une chanson naïve, Op. 125 [4:14]
1er concertino, Op. 126 [3:36]
2ème concertino (En forme de variations), Op. 127 [4:54]
Morten Zeuthen (cello), Daniel Blumenthal (piano)
rec. 10-11 October 2014, 14 March 2015, Det Kongelige Danske Musikkonservatorium, Copenhagen

In his liner-notes Morten Zeuthen asks why Paul Bazelaire is almost completely forgotten today. He was born into a musical family, his mother and grandmother were both musicians. Paul was taught by them, started studying cello at the age of seven and continued his studies in Paris, playing both the cello and the piano, eventually settling for the cello. He had an international career as soloist before he accepted a professorship at the Paris Conservatoire, which he held for forty years. Among his many students were Pierre Fournier. He also recorded extensively, including music by Saint-Saëns and Schumann. His own compositions were mainly short encore pieces, and this may be the main reason for his neglect in recent years. This is a pity, since what we encounter on this disc is utterly attractive and charming. Two more reasons are also suggested in the notes: He is mostly known as an arranger of music by other composers, and since he was also a pedagogue his popular, rather easy works could have damaged his reputation as a serious composer.

Be that as it may, the Zeuthen–Blumenthal duo have, I hope, given his cello oeuvre a new lease of life through this recording. I do urge cellists to savour this disc, search out the music and programme it in their own recital programmes. Maybe a recital with only Bazelaire’s music isn’t the best way of promoting him. Chamber music audiences tend to neglect concerts with unknown composers and – honestly – such a programme would be too lightweight. That said, contrasting his fresh and vital Suite Française with a couple of more substantial cello sonatas and then rounding off the evening with a couple of Bazelaire’s minor pieces as encores would be a nice idea.

The Suite Française is his most well-known and played composition and it has been recorded several times. It shows Bazelaire as more the arranger than the composer. All five movements are based on French folksongs but his treatment of the material is strongly inventive and personal and the suite works well as an integrated unit. The melody of the rhythmically vital opening Bourée we also recognise from Joseph Canteloube’s Chants d'Auvergne; the second movement is slow and intimate; the third radiates vitality; the beautiful Berceuse is calmly soothing and it is followed by a rousing finale that takes us back to where we started: the Auvergne. The journey takes just under eight minutes but it is a charming trip.

Bazelaire arranged quite a lot of baroque music, not always in a style recognized today as typically baroque. The Suite Italienne is an original composition and Zeuthen sees it as a parallel to Fritz Kreisler’s putative discoveries of works by Boccherini, Pugnani and Couperin, which he later admitted to having composed himself ‘in the style of’ the old masters. The these ‘homages’ to three Italian 18th century composers make a curious mixture. Without knowing the title I would never have guessed that the first was celebrating Vivaldi; more likely Bach. The Boccherini tribute is more plausible but the Scarlatti is atypical whether Bazelaire had Alessandro or Domenico in mind.

On the other hand I was mightily impressed by Rapsodie dans le style Russe. It is a thrilling composition, intensely rhythmic and requiring a lot of virtuoso playing from both musicians. There is, in fact, a lot of charming music elsewhere on this well-filled disc. The opening Deux pièces, for instance, are relaxed and beautiful; the Burlesque, rhythmically invigorating and much shorter than the timing in the playlist. After the nervously fluttering Cache–cache the Aria (tr. 5) is noble, almost solemn, and stays in the memory; a piece to return to in contemplative mood. The Dance nonchalante, a limping waltz, also stands out.

His last compositions for cello and piano – the music is presented in chronological order – are also attractive. The three-movement Morceau de concours is fresh and inventive, Variations sur une chanson naïve is nice and the two Concertinos are riveting, in particular the second en forme de variations.

Not all the music here is technically challenging but all requires communicative skills to make an impact and the experienced Morten Zeuthen and Daniel Blumenthal make the most of every piece. First-class recording and lavish documentation are two of Simax’s hallmarks. All in all this is a highly desirable issue – not only for cellists – with a lot of music made available on CD for the first time.

Göran Forsling