Friday 20 February 2015

Audite’s use of original master tapes in their Lucerne Festival series brings impressive results in archive recordings of Pierre Fournier giving captivating performances of concertos by Dvořák and Saint-Saëns

In cooperation with the Lucerne Festival, Audite  has already brought us a number of outstanding concert recordings of noted festival artists. The aim of this edition is to make available treasures, most of them previously unavailable, from the first six decades of the Festival, which began in 1938 with a ‘Concert de Gala’ led by Arturo Toscanini. The sound documents are taken from the archives of SRF Swiss Radio and Television, which has regularly broadcast the Lucerne concerts from the very beginning. They have been acoustically restored with great care and supplemented by materials and photos from the Lucerne Festival.

The latest release in this series from Audite  features the great cellist Pierre Fournier playing the Dvořák Cello Concerto and Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1.

For Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104 Pierre Fournier was joined by the newly formed Swiss Festival Orchestra conducted by the legendary István Kertész, a formidable Dvořák conductor. Kertész builds the opening of the Allegro wonderfully showing what we can expect from this remarkably fine orchestra. There is authority, fine orchestral control as well as care for dynamics and phrasing. When Fournier enters there is an equal authority, though more subtle and full of character. There is a terrific emotional pull with this cellist finding so many shades of emotion, revealing so many colours and textures.  There is a natural precision between soloist and orchestra.  Kertész brings some lovely orchestral passages and there is some phenomenal playing from Fournier in the more virtuosic passages, alive to all the moods and emotions of Dvořák’s muse.

If Fournier delved deep in the allegro, he goes even deeper in the Adagio, ma non troppo often balancing great emotion with a lighter Czech sensibility aided so much by Kertész’s fine, idiomatic accompaniment. Instrumental phrases such as woodwind have a fine clarity and later there are some particularly lovely timbres from Fournier in the little solo passages, such a fine rich texture before an exquisite coda.

I love the rhythmic precision with which Kertész paces the opening of the Finale. Allegro moderato, soon building in drama. Fournier magnificently rises to the power of Kertész’s orchestral sound, forging a drama that sits well against this conductor’s dramatic vision. Yet it is in the more sensitive passages that this cellist achieves some of his most exquisite playing. The coda is glorious.

Fournier digs deeper in the Dvořák than many other cellists bringing us one of the finest performances now on record. Even before hearing the Saint Saëns concerto I had decided that this is a Dvořák to put alongside the best on my shelves.

The cellist is not quite set as forward as one might expect but set in a natural concert hall setting in very good stereo sound from 1967. The live recording has very little audience noise, just an occasional rustle in the intervals. Applause is excised.

For the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.33 Fournier is joined by another French musical legend, Jean Martinon who conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de la RTF. The soloist is set more prominently in this mono recording from 1962. Fournier really makes the Allegro non troppo with top notch support from Jean Martinon and the orchestra who provide such a fine orchestral sweep. Fournier finds so many lovely moments of repose to reveal the most exquisite and textures and colours.

The Allegretto con moto brings some beautifully delicate, finely shaded orchestral playing. When he enters Fournier brings an equally fine sensibility with such light textured bowing and, – towards the coda, the loveliest of rich textures.  

Martinon brings some fine playing as the Tempo primo arrives with Fournier irresistible in Saint Saëns’ lovely melody.  There are some terrific faster passages with the fleetest playing from soloist and orchestra. Later there are more lovely rich, deep sonorities from this cellist revealing some lovely colours. As Fournier rises to the higher register towards the end he is exquisite.

This is a captivating performance in good quality mono sound. The applause is kept in at the end.

As a final jewel we have a recording from a concert in 1976 where Pierre Fournier plays Pablo Casals’ El cant dels ocells preceded by a dedicatory announcement in French by the cellist. He is joined by the Festival Strings Lucerne conducted by Matthias Bamert as they give a most touching and exquisite performance in excellent stereo sound, a fine tribute for the centenary that year of Casals’ birth. This is a beautiful and fitting conclusion to this disc.

Audite’s use of original master tapes brings impressive results that, combined with the most captivating of performances, makes this new release a must for all admirers of Pierre Fournier and, indeed, this repertoire.

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