Monday 16 November 2015

On her new recording for Harmonia Mundi cellist, Emmanuelle Bertrand provides extraordinarily fine playing, capturing so many details and expressive moments

The French cellist, Emmanuelle Bertrand (cello) has just released for Harmonia Mundi  a recording of French music. She is joined by pianist, Pascal Amoyel and the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester under their Chief Conductor James Gaffigan  in works by Dutilleux and Debussy.

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Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) studied with Jean (1878-1959) and Noël (1891-1966) Gallon, Henri Büsser (1872-1973) and Maurice Emmanual (1862-1938) at the Paris Conseratoire where he was later appointed professor. From early influences of Debussy, Ravel, Roussel and Honegger he developed his own style in a relatively small output of works that include two symphonies, orchestral pieces, piano music and a string quartet.

The first part of his Trois Strophes sur le nom de Sacher pour violoncelle solo was originally composed on the occasion of the great Swiss conductor, patron and impresario, Paul Sacher's 70th birthday in 1976, following a request by the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich to write compositions for cello solo using Paul Sacher's name spelt out in musical notes. Two more pieces for solo cello followed in 1982, again derived from the notes that spell out Sacher.

Emmanuelle Bertrand produces some remarkable tones and sonorities as Un Poco indeciso opens, finding much beauty in the lovely little harmonies that appear. There are some terrific pizzicato passages and many exquisite details before this piece tails off beautifully at the end. Rich, dark sonorities open the Andante Sostenuto before this cellist weaves some wonderfully rich, mahogany phrases, such a fine tone. The fast moving Vivace follows into which pizzicato and many other textural devices are thrown with Bertrand delivering absolutely wonderful virtuosity combined with the most exquisite sensitivity to detail before a gentle section with lovely high sonorities and a vibrant coda.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) wrote his Sonate pour violoncelle et piano en ré mineur in 1915, coincidentally only a few months before Dutilleux was born.

Pascal Amoyel brings a lovely opening to the Prologue. Lent, sostenuto e molto risoluto, broad and languid before Emmanuelle Bertrand joins with her lovely tone. She brings fine phrasing with a lovely thoughtfulness. There are some light, fleet playing from both these musicians as the tempo picks up, leading through some light textured, quieter moments before the lovely coda. Pizzicato cello opens the
Sérénade. Modérément animé with staccato piano phrases. These two artists bring a fine accuracy in this rather quixotic movement, revealing some particularly attractive little details. They move quickly ahead into the Finale. Animé, léger et nerveux providing moments of languid beauty as they extract so much feeling from Debussy’s score. They bring a lovely ebb and flow and beautifully judged tempo before a brilliantly fluent run to the coda.

Henri Dutilleux wrote his Concerto pour violoncelle et orchestre ‘Tout un monde lointain’ (‘While a distant world’) for Mstislav Rostropovich after visiting the cellist’s dressing room after a concert in Salle Pleyel in Paris in 1961and unexpectedly receiving a commission.

A swish of cymbals opens Énigme as the cello of Emmanuelle Bertrand brings a motif. There is another swish of cymbals as well as other subtle percussion sounds as the cello weaves its theme and the orchestra join. Bertrand delivers some extraordinarily fine playing, capturing so many details and expressive moments, with moments of fine passion as well as virtuosic skill. Dutilleux brings some fine colours and textures to his score before it rises in drama, often with a fine dialogue between soloist and orchestra. Both the orchestra under James Gaffigan and Bertrand are spot on, demonstrating fine accuracy. One just has to listen how, later in this movement, soloist and orchestral strings weave around each other. There are some terrific slides from soloist before finding the magical hushed coda.

Regard brings a heartfelt theme for cello as the soloist moves around some finely conceived orchestral textures, moving through a strange landscape with much beauty. James Gaffigan draws some fine orchestral playing, both the orchestra and soloist providing a real ebb and flow. Bertrand creates a magical atmosphere with some exquisitely controlled phrases as she teases out a real depth of feeling right up to the softly toned coda.

The cello rises up as cymbals swishes are heard gently in the opening of Houles. The orchestra joins to provide lovely points of light before rising to a climax after which the cello brings some finely wrought phrases, with much orchestral colour revealed. Bertrand, Gaffigan and the orchestra find all the sudden forward surges of flow before a wonderfully luminous passage for orchestra. There is more sparkling orchestration before the music descends to a hush for cello and harp at the coda.

In Miroirs the harp picks up, along with a shimmering orchestral layer, to take the movement on. The cello enters with another fine, heartfelt melody, Bertrand achieving some fine emotional depth. There is more finely developed and coloured orchestral sound from Dutilleux, lovely little textures and points of sound from the orchestra. As the movement develops the cellist brings a lovely tone before opening out and rising in dynamics to lead into the final movement.

Hymne is fast and often impassioned, striding forward with the orchestral lines flowing and bubbling over each other. There is such fine transparency in the orchestra with Bertrand spinning some terrific phrases before she brings the coda holding a lovely final phrase.

These are very fine performances indeed. Given that the comparative recording of the concerto on my shelves is by Rostropovich himself, this is no mean accolade.

In the first two works the recording is slightly on the plummy side but certainly brings a warmth of tone. In the concerto, given an excellent recording at a different venue, there is a more open and transparent sound.

There are useful booklet notes

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