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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Serenade, Op. 98 (1908) [3:01]
Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
Cello Sonata in B minor, Op.27 (1910) [23:11]
Nadia BOULANGER (1887-1979)
3 Pieces for Violoncello and Piano (1913) [6:46]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Cello Sonata in D minor (1915) [11:16]
Gabriel FAURÉ
Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 117 (1921) [17:58]
Raphaël Jouan (cello)
Flore Merlin (piano)
rec. 2019, Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris
INITIALE INL06 [62:19]

The label Initiale, if you’re not already familiar with it, is a product of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris. It aims to provide a "visiting card" for young artists. In other words, it offers them an opportunity to make a recording, which will be widely distributed, as they are about to leave student status to fully enter the professional circuit.

This new release takes its title from the opening piece by Gabriel Fauré. The Serenade, Op. 98 was dedicated to Pablo Casals, most probably celebrating his engagement to the Portuguese cellist Guilhermina Suggia, its conversational character likely echoing intimate exchanges between the two lovers. Tuneful and beguiling, it makes for an ideal opener to this recital.

Casals was also the dedicatee of Louis Vierne’s Sonata in B minor, Op. 27. I don’t know this work at all, but its character is one of fervent passion. The opening of the first movement sounds as if it’s awakening from a dream, but then the composer ups the rhetorical, investing the music with emotional intensity. The slow movement is noble and searching, and the piano’s bass chords invest it with sombre gloom. It sounds to me quite world weary. The animated finale is quite ecstatic, yet the music never seems to find true peace or contentment.

Nadia Boulanger was better known as a teacher, but the three pieces for cello and piano have a delightful charm. The first radiates a luminous glow. Flore Merlin’s diaphanous sonorities contrast strikingly with the melancholic cello line. The second piece is a simple tune, rather undistinguished. The third is my particular favorite. Bouncy pizzicatos and a bubbly theme bookend a central more reflective section. Jouan and Merlin close with a sparkling flourish.

The most familiar work here is the Debussy Sonata. It was one of a projected series of six sonatas for various combinations, embarked on in 1915. Due to the decline in the composer’s health (he was to die three years later) only three sonatas were completed. It’s a profoundly expressive work, instilled with humanity and sincerity. Jouan and Merlin penetrate to the very core of the work, in a performance truly magical and touching.

We kicked off with Fauré, and the composer’s Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 in G minor, Op. 117 from 1921 ends this recital. The off-the-beat piano part in the opening movement sets up a turbulent and euphoric effect. The Adagio is austere with a funereal tread, and the finale is a whirlwind, performed with infectious exuberance.

The duo have been ideally captured in the superb acoustic. Merlin performs on a beautiful Érard of 1903, which has a lovely deep rich tone, and is well-suited to the music. This is an engaging programme, and the inclusion of the lesser-known Vierne Sonata should add significantly to the attraction of the disc.

Stephen Greenbank

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