Chopin: 1846 – The Last year at Nohant

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: 1846 – The Last year at Nohant: Cello Sonata; Barcarolle; Mazurkas Op. 63/1-3; Waltzes Nos 6-8; Mazurka No. 45; Nocturnes, Op. 62
PERFORMER: Emmanuelle Bertrand (cello), Pascal Amoyel (piano)


For seven summers, George Sand’s estate at Nohant, south of Orléans, became a creative refuge for Chopin. The publication in 1846 of Sand’s thinly-disguised character assassination, Lucrezia Floriani, spelt the demise of what had become a strained partnership. But though composing proved a struggle, his diverse output glanced back to the salon and forward into the future. In this illuminating programme we begin with the visionary Op. 60 Barcarolle, end with the questingly strange Op. 62 Nocturnes, a breezy ‘Minute’ Waltz rubbing shoulders with the ambitious Cello Sonata.

The recording is slightly distant, giving Pascal Amoyel’s sound a soft-grained texture, suitably resonant in his commanding Barcarolle and the mournful late Mazurkas, but lacking pearlescent clarity in the Op. 64 waltzes. It also means Emmanuelle Bertrand’s fragile cello line is occasionally swallowed up in the first movement of the Sonata. That’s not to suggest that her approach lacks vigour: there’s plenty of mercurial vivacity here, even if her instrument cannot always deliver the volume. The magical cadence points in this movement are beautifully placed. Art conceals art in a Largo of quiet, flowing simplicity. But while there’s devilish life in the angular Scherzo and heroic Finale, they feel a little slow.

In the wistful C sharp minor waltz Amoyel never quite finds a real pianissimo from which to build contrast. Yet his Nocturne in B major is startlingly dramatic: one genuinely senses the opening of fantastical new vistas, from the unexpected harmonies to the trembling trills wreathing its final lyric line. As for the Op. 62 Nocturnes, he captures their ambivalences in two deeply affecting performances.


Helen Wallace