Saint-Saëns: Cello Sonata No. 1; Suite, Op. 16; Prière, Op. 158; Tarantelle, Op. 10/5; Gavotte, Op. 16/3 etc

COMPOSERS: Saint-Sa‘ns
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Saint-Sa‘ns
WORKS: Cello Sonata No. 1; Suite, Op. 16; Prière, Op. 158; Tarantelle, Op. 10/5; Gavotte, Op. 16/3 etc
PERFORMER: Emmanuelle Bertrand (cello), Pascal Amoyel (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901962
Bloodless, twee playing of the Saint-Saëns cello sonatas is the last thing I would advocate. His smaller works for cello, also appearing on this disc, give only a partial idea of his view of the instrument, while his First Sonata shows him at his most powerful and imaginative. It gravitates more towards the cello’s lower register, and herein lies one of the main problems with this recording. The combination of close miking and resonant acoustic led me to feel at times a bit like Queen Victoria being put through it by Mr Gladstone. While eschewing the twee and bloodless, I can’t really bring myself on the other hand to embrace what I hear as a democratisation (to put it politely) of Saint-Saëns’s essentially aristocratic art.

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Both artists are fine technicians. Emmanuelle Bertrand’s playing of the ‘Prélude’ of the Suite is of the highest class, even if her bold attempt at an ending for the ‘Sérénade’ doesn’t quite come off. Amoyel is supportive, but again in the middle and lower registers there are times when I would have preferred lighter pedalling, like Thiollier’s on the Naxos disc. But I freely admit that my preference is even more personal than usual. If you happen to subscribe to the line (not, I have to say, taken by Yves Gérard in his scholarly note) that the work was the composer’s response to the death of his great-aunt and to the Commune, then you’ll probably be pleased with this performance and will be rewarded by fine playing and some fine sounds, especially in the upper register. Roger Nichols,/i>