Sonata No.1 in D minor for Cello and Piano, Op.109
Sonata No.2 in G minor for Cello and Piano, Op.117
Élégie in C minor, Op.24
Romance in A, Op.69
Allegro comodo [finale of Op.109 performed at a faster tempo]
Alban Gerhardt (cello) & Cecile Licad (piano)
Recorded 21-23 October 2010, Wyastone Leys Concert Hall, Monmouthshire
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: January 2012
CD No: HYPERION CDA67872
Duration: 64 minutes
Fauré’s two sonatas for cello and piano are a well-structured culmination of an aptitude for the instrumental combination which began with a number of shorter pieces. As Roger Nichols’s superb booklet note tells us, the first published example, the solemn Élégie, was originally intended to be the slow movement of a sonata but had enough stature to be effective as a standalone piece.
Interestingly the slow movement of the G minor Sonata, completed some 41 years after the Élégie in 1921, bears more than a passing resemblance to its ancestor with a slow, stepwise motion and thoughtful disposition. Alban Gerhardt and Cecile Licad perform this with great sensitivity, and in the outer movements portray a real sense of the “harmonic drift” characteristic of the composer’s late music, and referred to by Nichols, where the music moves through a series of chords at relative speed. The duo does well to maintain the lyricism of the first movement, which flows nicely, with the broad sweep of the cello phrases leading the way.
The First Cello Sonata is more direct in its communication, the opening movement making a compelling start to the disc, strident and purposeful from both players. There is an edge to the playing here, and Gerhardt nails the climactic arpeggio of the first movement convincingly, with Licad equally as forceful. Occasionally the piano sound becomes brittle, particularly in the lower left-hand octaves as the slow movement becomes more passionate before subsiding beautifully to its conclusion. Gerhardt offers two takes on the finale, for the composer’s initial markings of crotchet = 80 was thought far too slow. In the event both of the interpretations offered here are quicker, though the first – 90 seconds longer – gives the phrasing more expressive opportunity.
The shorter pieces for cello and piano are exquisitely packaged and make good encore or exam pieces – something this particular reviewer can attest to where the Sicilienne and Élégie are concerned. Gerhardt plays slightly within himself for both, which is more appropriate for the Sicilienne – arranged from the incidental music for Pélleas et Mélisande – though the cellist’s refusal to rush the Élégie is commendable and the emotion is profound. The charming Romance leads seamlessly in to skittish Papillon, while the Sérénade shows the flowering of the composer’s late style, slightly elusive yet intensely lyrical.
As so often with Hyperion the choice of cover artwork – a Renoir landscape – matches the musical content. This eminently desirable release is beautifully recorded.