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Four Visions of France
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Cello Concerto No 1 in A minor, Op 33 (1872) [19:05]
Romance in F major, Op 36 (1874) [2:56]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Élégie in C minor, Op 24 (1880/1890) [6:26]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Cello Concerto (1929) [15:07]
Édouard LALO (1823-1892)
Cello Concerto in D minor (1877)
Daniel Müller-Schott (cello)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Alexandre Bloch
rec. Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, Germany, 27-30 August 2019
ORFEO C988211 [69:50]

As far as I can tell, this is the first time these four works and an encore have been programmed on a single CD. The title “Four Visions of France,” is quite appropriate, though Honegger, born in France and a member of Les Six, was Swiss by nationality. There are numerous individual recordings of these works from which to choose, but none that I have heard are superior to the ones here. Indeed, it makes for pleasurable listening from beginning to end.

The most frequently recorded of these is Saint-Saëns' First Concerto, which is much more popular than his later concerto in the genre, the two which are seldom coupled on disc. One of my favourite performances of the Concerto No 1 is Yo-Yo Ma's with the National Orchestra of France under Lorin Maazel, on a Sony CD  that also contains the Piano Concerto No 2 and Violin Concerto No 3. Daniel Müller-Schott is more urgent and dramatic in the first movement than the gentler Ma. Müller-Schott contrasts the first subject well with the second, noble theme, slowing nicely and he varies the tone of his 1727 Matteo Goffriller cello. Alexandre Bloch and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin provide excellent support here and throughout all the performances. They reveal the delicious orchestral detail in the first movement, including the bassoons and horns. The elegant minuet of the second movement is light and precise, even sprightly, with a tempo a bit quicker than Ma’s. In the finale Müller-Schott is again more intense with the low cello solo starting at 3:53 deeply resonant. Ma is not as dark, somewhat more restrained there. Overall, there is very little to choose between these fine accounts of the concerto.

The other concertos on the disc are recorded less often, though the Honegger work has received recorded performances in recent times by such esteemed cellists, as Alban Gerhardt, Johannes Moser, and Christian Poltéra. However, I don’t ever recall hearing this concerto and it was a most pleasant surprise. I think of Honegger’s music as being rather gnarly and expressionistic in comparison with the other members of Les Six. Not so the Cello Concerto, which is a wonderful work, containing an abundance of ideas, even though it is only fifteen minutes long. It succeeds with the opening, peaceful theme and following bluesy one returning near the end of the piece to tie it all together. The slow movement, which continues without a break after the first movement, begins in a much darker mood by strange, rattling drums, bassoon, and clarinet accompanying a somber theme on the cello. The finale is then very energetic, reminding me of Stravinsky’s neoclassical style. Müller-Schott and the Berlin orchestra seem to relish this attractive work, contributing a terrific performance.

I reviewed a splendid disc of the Lalo and Dvořák cello concertos with Johannes Moser and the Prague Philharmonia under Jakub Hrůša (Pentatone) back in 2015 and declared it the best account of the Lalo since Pierre Fournier’s with Jean Martinon and the Lamoureux Orchestra (DG - review). I am happy to report that Müller-Schott’s account is fully the equal of Moser’s. The contrast between the powerfully austere first subject and the songful second one is treated exceptionally well here. In the second movement Intermezzo, which combines elements of a slow movement and scherzo, the performers capture the pensive mood and later the Spanish flavour to perfection. One can appreciate the flutes, too, as they are so clearly recorded. The cellist enters the finale as a “Spanish knight,” performing the introduction with due emotion and majesty before concluding the concerto with verve and a sense of fun. The sound is excellent, if not quite as full as Pentatone’s SACD recording, and some of the orchestral detail in the woodwinds is more clearly audible in the last movement on that disc, for example, an outstanding solo bassoon within the first couple of minutes. On the other hand, the horns right before the end have greater presence on this Orfeo recording. I found a great deal to like in both of these accounts and would have a hard time preferring one over the other.

Placed on the disc between the Saint-Saëns and Honegger concertos, Fauré’s Élégie serves as a kind of entr’acte. It was originally composed for cello and piano and later orchestrated by the composer at the request of the conductor Édouard Colonne. Its mood is at first somber and mournful, but later the music becomes agitated. Clarinet and oboe solos lighten the atmosphere and the work ends quietly on a low, subdued note. Müller-Schott gives a lovely performance, as he does in Saint-Saëns’ popular and tuneful Romance, Op 36 in the version with orchestra which serves as the perfect encore.

In every way, this is an impressive CD. It contains first-rate performances in excellent sound and has a most appealing programme. Included is a handsome booklet with photos and more than adequate notes on the works and artists. There is simply no reason to hesitate in adding this to your collection, if you are a cello aficionado.

Leslie Wright

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