Monday 16 February 2015

Cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand and pianist Pascal Amoyel give very fine performances of the works Chopin wrote during his last summer at Nohant on a new release from Harmonia Mundi that should not to be missed

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) met the writer George Sand (Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin), in1836, at the home of Franz Liszt and Marie d'Agoult. He was 26 years old and she 32. She had married François Casimir Dudevant (1795–1871), the illegitimate son of Baron Jean-François Dudevant, in 1822. They had two children, Maurice (1823–1889) and Solange (1828–1899). Something of a free spirit, in early 1831, she left her husband, having many liaisons including a tempestuous affair with writer and poet Alfred de Musset (1810-1857). In 1835, she was legally separated from Dudevant and took her children with her.

George Sand spent her childhood and adolescence at the family house in Nohant in the province of Berry south of the Loire Valley in France. The house lies in a region of gentle hills with wooded hilltops. Dating from the late eighteenth century it was built for the governor of Vierzon and acquired in 1793 by Madame Dupin de Francueil, the grandmother of George Sand. Most of her writing was done at the house which she had inherited from her grandmother. There she received guests such as Liszt and Marie d'Agoult, Honoré de Balzac, Chopin and Flaubert. The painter Eugène Delacroix had a studio there. The estate is today a property of the nation and run by the Centre des monuments nationaux. .

Sand and Chopin spent long summers there from 1839 to 1846 and it was at Nohant that the composer wrote many of his works. It was to Nohant that Sand and Chopin went after their ill-fated trip to Majorca where they experienced appalling weather and Chopin’s tuberculosis worsened.

The relationship between Chopin and Sand, always volatile, broke down following an argument concerning Sand’s daughter, Solange, Chopin’s favourite of Sand’s two children. There is much speculation over the exact cause but it certainly related to the 18 year old daughter’s choice between two suitors. Chopin died two years later, on October 17, 1849, in Paris. George Sand died June 8, 1876 and is buried in the family cemetery in the grounds of the château.

It is the music written during Chopin’s last summer at Nohant in 1846 that is the focus of a new release from Harmonia Mundi  with cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand  and pianist Pascal Amoyel .

HMC 902199
Pascal Amoyel brings a lovely sensibility to Chopin’s Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op. 60 with lovely shaping of phrases and just the right tempo, a kind of gentle rocking motion. He has a fine touch providing some lovely limpid, silken phrases and fine textures with many shades and colours.  

There are many fine details in the B major Mazurka No. 1 of the Three Mazurkas, Op.63. No. 2 in F minor brings a calmer rhythmic pulse, gentle yet beautifully projected forward with No. 3 in C sharp minor beautifully poised yet finding the subtle rhythmic forward pulse.

Cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand joins Pascal Amoyel for the Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op.65 with a beautifully restrained Allegro Moderato that has a fine natural balance between the two instruments. Emmanuelle Bertrand slowly pulls more power from the music, both these artists finding many subtleties with this cellist providing some fine textures and timbres as the movement progresses. Midway there is a magical moment as the music pauses with gentle phrases from the piano before the cello gently enters; a quite lovely section. Later both of these artists bring a terrific sweep and breadth with some very fine moments from Amoyel. These two make a terrific duo, both bringing a real passion to this music.

The Scherzo: Allegro Con Brio brings some fine interplay between these artists with terrific control, rubato and sense of rhythmic subtly. At times these two players bring a lovely singing quality to the music. Emmanuelle Bertrand brings the most exquisite, deep rich, glowing textures to the Largo, glorious playing, with Amoyel providing a gently supportive flow: superb.

There is a wonderfully characterised Finale: Allegro with lovely sonorous double stopping from this cellist against some superbly fluent phrases from Amoyel.  Bertrand provides some beautifully chosen rubato before these players move swiftly and deftly to the coda. A performance that makes one want to stand and applaud.

Pascal Amoyel returns for Chopin’s Waltzes, Op.64 with No. in D flat major, the famous Minute Waltz receiving a finely fluent yet clearly considered performance with this pianist never missing a detail or nuance. There is a beautifully poised performance of No. 2 in C sharp minor with Amoyel finding just the right rhythmic pulse and fine care of dynamics, not to mention a subtle, gentle rubato. No. 3 in A flat major finds Amoyel again, setting just right the tempo and pulse with the subtlest and gentlest of rubato. Really lovely.

Amoyel reveals all the strange little phrases and intervals in the Mazurka Op. 67, No. 4 in A minor with halting gentle rhythms that are just right, creating an uncertain feel.

Finally we come to the Two Nocturnes, Op.62 with No. 1 in B major receiving such fluent, delicate exquisite playing. There is something that is indefinable that makes this very fine Chopin playing indeed. Amoyel brings a kind of improvisatory yet wholly thought out approach making phrases seem unexpected.  With No. 2 in E major, again Amoyel reveals just what is so special in these late works. There is a thoughtfulness, the most wonderful twists and turns, all beautifully laid out in playing of such fine sensitivity, fluency and style. After the quieter, beautifully conceived coda it was difficult to break the spell.

These performances are very fine indeed. Had I attended a recital of this quality I would have gone away thrilled. As it is one can return to it as often as one wishes. This is a release not to be missed.

These two fine artists are recorded in a lovely acoustic with just the right amount of air around the instruments, very clear and detailed with a lovely piano tone. There are excellent booklet notes with a reproduction of Delacroix’s painting of the garden at Nohant on the cover just to complete this fine issue.

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