CD+DVD Reviews

“Emmanuelle Bertrand: The Cello Speaks” – BRITTEN: Suite for Solo Cello, No. 3, Op. 87; GASPAR CASSADO: Suite for Solo Cello; PASCAL AMOYEL: Itinerance; KODALY: Suite for Solo Cello, Op. 8 – Harmonia mundi (CD+DVD)

A first-class traversal of some of the most important solo cello pieces in the literature.

Published on April 4, 2012

“Emmanuelle Bertrand: The Cello Speaks” – BRITTEN: Suite for Solo Cello, No. 3, Op. 87; GASPAR CASSADO: Suite for Solo Cello; PASCAL AMOYEL: Itinerance; KODALY: Suite for Solo Cello, Op. 8 – Harmonia mundi (CD+DVD)

Emmanuelle Bertrand: The Cello Speaks – BRITTEN: Suite for Solo Cello, No. 3, Op. 87; GASPAR CASSADO: Suite for Solo Cello; PASCAL AMOYEL: Itinerance; KODALY: Suite for Solo Cello, Op. 8 – Emmanuelle Bertrand, cello – Harmonia mundi 902078, 82:09 CD+DVD “The Cello Sings”, a film by Christian Lebel (English subtitles, 47:29) ****:

If I am counting right, this is Emmanuelle Bertrand’s seventh recording for Harmonia mundi, an impressive discography for the young French cellist who has been feted with prizes, awards, and press accolades for going on ten years now. And there is a reason for the hoopla—she has a chocolaty, vigorously rich tone of great resonance, and is also capable of floating the most delicate pianissimos. Her penchant towards contemporary music is also well known, a 1999 encounter with Henri Dutilleux being a significant career and life-altering experience for her.

Anyone looking for an introduction to the modern solo cello literature has little need to look any further than what Bertrand provides for us on this disc; The Britten, long considered perhaps the premiere solo cello work of the past century, is the last of his set of three that were written for Mstislav Rostropovich. That Decca recording belongs in every library, but there have been some others that refuse to give way to the master, among them a radiant version by Steven Isserlis on RCA, coupled with Taverner’s Protecting Veil. To this should be added Bertrand’s mesmerizing reading, fully conscious of the Russian folk songs and Orthodox hymns that litter the piece’s nine movements, a very personal and intimate tribute to the dedicatee.

Bookending this recital is Kodaly’s ravishing Suite, which puts the cello through its paces in a wide-ranging and fully exploitative rendition of multiple instruments in its vastly varied sonorities, truly a celloistic challenge if ever there was one. Again Bertrand proves herself the master colorist, able to adopt on a turn of a dime to the many demands imposed by this formidable and immensely popular work. While I don’t detect the tense, febrile strength of a Starker here, Bertrand is even more flexible in her sense of rhythm and contour.

The other biggie on this disc is the Suite by Gaspar Cassado, a 1925 work in three movements that takes three Spanish dances as their basis: a sarabande, a sardana (Catalanian in origin), and the jota. The piece is greatly tuneful and marvelously bouncy, a treat of Spanish seduction sure to lure any music lover into its spell. The most recent piece is Pascal Amoyal’s Itinerance, coming from a series of stage concerts based on the testimonies of two survivors from Auschwitz, and how their special status as musicians saved their lives. The piece is not depressing, as one might first assume, but instead presents itself as an almost fabled journey into the recesses of memory, constantly challenging us to determine what is real and what is not.

The accompanying film on DVD is an exploration of some of these pieces though an interaction with a student, producer, and simply playing the music. It is nicely done, a good length, and makes a fine bonus to this album. Sound is terrific, playing terrific, and program terrific—an easy hat trick.

—Steven Ritter




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