Music from Proust’s Salons
Franck: Cello Sonata in A; Saint-Saëns: Cello Sonata No. 1; plus works by Duparc, Fauré, Hahn, Holmès and Steven Isserlis
Steven Isserlis (cello), Connie Shih (piano)
BIS BIS-2522 (CD/SACD) 83:17 mins
Salons were more important than concert halls in belle époque Paris. It is typically insightful of Steven Isserlis, therefore, to build an album around the acquaintances and lovers of that world’s foremost chronicler, Marcel Proust. The resulting potpourri finds old musical friends from Saint-Saëns, Fauré and Franck mingling comfortably with less-familiar pieces in a generously-filled and exquisitely-presented disc. French cellist Jules Delsart’s arrangement of Franck’s impassioned Violin Sonata, and Saint-Saëns’s uncharacteristically turbulent First Cello Sonata are joined by shorter works, including the engagingly spry original finale of the Saint-Saëns.
Isserlis and regular partner Connie Shih are perfect hosts, ensuring it all flows with deceptive ease, setting the scene with the wistful nobility of Hahn’s Variations chantantes sur un air ancien. In their hands, only the hardest of hearts could resist the melancholic beauty of Duparc’s short ‘Lamento’, or their breathtaking sudden hush in Fauré’s Élégie. Captured in superb surround sound, there is a wonderful elasticity to Isserlis’s playing throughout as it soars above Shih’s rich-toned piano. This is not just in the adroitly-paced slow burn of Franck’s opening movement, but also providing a foil to Shih’s impressively accentuated outpourings in the fiery tumult of the second. The Recitatif et Chant by the remarkable Augusta Holmès is especially intriguing, being an arrangement by Isserlis from her 1895 cantata La Vision de la Reine in which the minstrel is ‘sung’ by an ever-lyrical solo cello. With such delicious morsels on offer, hopefully Isserlis will return to the salon before too long.