LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Complete Works for Cello
PERFORMER: Steven Isserlis (cello), Pascal Devoyon (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68049 2 DDD
I am not convinced that a disc of all Fauré’s cello music sets the composer’s genius off to its best advantage. There is a problem, perhaps, of too much beauty. No more so than in the Elégie, Après un rêve, and the two sonatas. To a cellist, these are gifts of such rare lyricism, so simply given, that many a soloist has been at a loss to know what to do with them. But a glossy sound, a wide vibrato and self-conscious rubato do not belong with the spare, agile piano writing and the continual subtle shifting of the harmony. In some performances you can almost hear the conflict.
Fauré’s music floats in an almost hyper-ventilated ecstasy. As Nadia Boulanger wrote, ‘his voice seems to interpose itself between heaven and men’. It is to the spirituality of the Requiem that these grave movements belong. It is significant that the slow movement of the Second Sonata began as a Chant funéraire to mark the centenary of the death of Napoleon in 1921. And Isserlis manipulates his uniquely intimate sound with the restraint and austerity required. In the slow movement of the intricate First Sonata we are in the meditative realms of ‘Louange à l’eternité de Jésus’. In the first movement the syncopations are clean and swift. As if to emphasise the point, Isserlis has included on the disc a premiere recording of the Andante for cello and organ (Op. 69) recorded in Eton College Chapel. Ethereal and harmonically ambiguous, this is funeral music of the headiest order. Helen Wallace