Franck • Debussy • Poulenc

COMPOSERS: Franck Debussy Poulenc
WORKS: Violin Sonata in A; Cello Sonatas
PERFORMER: Anne Gastinel (cello); Claire Désert (piano)


Anne Gastinel marks her 20th anniversary as a soloist with this disc of Gallic works she has inhabited and honed for years. She and Claire Désert have a wonderfully intuitive partnership and both draw on subtle, inimitable soundworlds. Gastinel brings the lithe flexibility of a fiddle to the Franck Sonata transcription, by Jules Delsart, in a performance lacking all the hectic vibrato and crushing bow-strain that can bedevil this work.

Ysaÿe once described the first movement as a ‘long caress’ and that’s just what they achieve here. The Recitativo fantasia is properly fantastical and improvisatory, and the two evoke a spooky, dream-like atmosphere at the start of the finale where they float the culminating theme, which emerges over so long a span that its climax is all the more glorious. A tender sweetness characterises this movement, which is stripped of its bombastic rhetoric: the descending piano-chimes are warm rather than triumphant.

Gastinel brings the right note of nonchalant simplicity to Debussy’s Sonata, well described in Roger Nichols’s booklet notes as a ‘dry-point engraving’ in contrast to Franck’s iridescent oils. Désert finds a gentle, velvet sound in the first melody accompaniment, the perfect foil to Gastinel’s piquant, textured tone and gossamer light, articulate bowing. The witty pizzicato Serenade sulks and struts, and the harmonics glissando slowly down from their precarious high wires. Where Rostropovich and Britten’s landmark recording of this work has panache and bite, this duo, with cat-like tread, bring out an utterly different quality – equally stylish, and quietly impressive.

Poulenc’s bracing Sonata makes a fine ending and, again, the performance is turned to perfection, with a witty finale, a charming Ballabile, and poignant Cavatine.


Helen Wallace