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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Cello Sonata in D minor (1915) [10:18]
Syrinx, for solo flute (1913) [3:09]
Violin Sonata in G minor (1917) [12:58]
Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp (1915) [17:58]
Piano Trio in G major (1880) [20:27]
Renaud Capuçon (violin)
Bertrand Chamayou (piano)
Edgar Moreau (cello)
Emmanuel Pahud (flute)
Gerard Caussé (viola)
Marie-Pierre Langlamet (harp)
rec. 2016, Salle Colonne (works with flute), 2017, Studios Davot (others)
ERATO 9029 773960 [65:37]

Erato has thrown serious star power at this recording. Renaud Capuçon and Emmanuel Pahud are major international names, and Edgar Moreau is one of the next big things in French classical music. Gerard Caussé, the elder statesman of the group, is perhaps the most eminent French violist and Marie-Pierre Langlamet is the principal harpist for the Berlin Philharmonic. Bertrand Chamayou may be the least prominent of the players, but he still has a well-furnished resumé.

Star soloists do not always meld well in chamber music; that certainly isn’t the case here. Each of these performances match or exceed those already in my collection.

The three sonatas are the product of Debussy’s late and incomplete project to write six sonatas for various instruments. The Cello Sonata, with its very jazzy, almost improvisational sounding second movement, is not a work that I like, but here I’m willing to listen to it more than in the past. The Violin Sonata here is very different to the classic performance by Kyung-Wha Chung and Radu Lupu (Decca). It is much less intense and dramatic in the first movement, to the point where I sought out the score to see which pair was closer to Debussy’s markings. To my surprise, Chung & Lupu’s choice of a quite extended range of dynamics seemed further away from the composer’s wishes than Capuçon and Chamayou. In the flute, viola and harp sonata, the players adopt somewhat slower tempos than those of Ossian Ellis and the Melos Ensemble from the same Decca disc. Again, the new recording seems closer to the composer’s intentions, and in writing this, I do realise that the old Decca recording is highly revered.

Clearly the decision to include Syrinx, the only work for solo instrument and thus not fitting in with the disc’s title “Sonates & Trio”, was to gain some extra value from Emmanuel Pahud’s availability. Solo flute, or indeed any chamber work with flute, is not really my thing, but Pahud is a great soloist and I have no doubt this is a fine performance. The Piano Trio is, in contrast, one of my favourite Debussy works, which puts me rather at odds with most admirers of the composer. The product of his teenage years, it is certainly not characteristic of his mature style, but I find it quite delightful, and there is no doubt this performance is every bit as good as my reference one, that by the Florestan Trio on Hyperion.

The sound quality is very good, though the microphones do pick up some rather sniffy breathing from Renaud Capuçon. One oddity regarding the booklet: while Capuçon’s name and photo appear on the front cover, his name is conspicuous by its absence from the list of players on the inside. Otherwise, the notes, in French, English and German, are comprehensive and well-written, providing both historical and musicological information.

If you are an admirer of Debussy’s chamber music, this is a disc you must hear.

David Barker



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