Faure: Cello Sonatas, Opp. 109 & 117; Romances sans paroles, Op. 17; Elégie, Op. 24; Romance, Op. 69; Papillon, Op. 77; Morceau de lecture* etc

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Faure
LABELS: Zig Zag
ALBUM TITLE: Fauré
WORKS: Cello Sonatas, Opp. 109 & 117; Romances sans paroles, Op. 17; Elégie, Op. 24; Romance, Op. 69; Papillon, Op. 77; Morceau de lecture* etc
PERFORMER: Xavier Gagnepain, *Jérémie Billet (cello), Jean-Michel Dayez (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ZZT 070602

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Slowly, the musical world seems to be catching up with the true message of Gabriel Fauré (b1845). His so-called ‘salon’ pieces are at last being heard as, for the most part, a good deal more than that, while the works of his old age, long dismissed as incoherent and impenetrable, now strike us as exhibiting an extraordinarily modern subtlety of texture and syntax. The works for cello and piano partake of both genres. One of the first questions to address is ‘how light are the lighter pieces?’ If ‘Papillon’ and ‘Sicilienne’ can’t be too light (and in the former, neither cellist here matches Steven Isserlis’s delicacy), something more may be required in Après un rêve and Elégie. Then there’s the obvious mismatch between the Andantino marking for Après un rêve and the distinctly Adagio sentiment of the original poem. In fact, the difference between the two present recordings is not so much of tempo – though Xavier Gagnepain and Jean-Michel Dayez on Zig Zag play it slightly faster – as of colour and weight. Theirs is a steady, clean, pure, classical reading, whereas Maria Kliegel and Nina Tichman on Naxos react more emotionally and dramatically with greater use of rubato. This basic distinction runs through both discs, and whether you like either, or both, will depend on your reading of Fauré’s ‘true message’. To a large extent, the distinction derives from the 1902 Erard piano used in the Zig Zag recording. Such authenticity can pay tremendous dividends, as in Claire Chevallier’s disc for the same label of the Ravel Left Hand Concerto on a 1905 Erard (reviewed October 2006). Here the results are less happy. The tone is often plummy in the middle register and frankly tinny further up – the opening of the finale of the Second Sonata is really hard on the ear, however firm one’s belief in historical correctness. The dynamic range is small, too, and this narrows the expressive scope of both instruments, so that the sculpting of the structures is not always incisive enough to inhibit the drift that is a danger in these late sonatas. On the Naxos disc Nina Tichman may be a shade generous with her pedalling at times, but she uses Fauré’s powerful left-hand lines correctly as counterweight to the cello’s soaring tunes. Impassioned playing from her and Kliegel gives us not only the two sonatas, but also the Elégie and even the Romance as the fine, strong works they are.

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Roger Nichols