Sonata No.1 in C for Cello and Piano, Op.32
Sonata No.2 in F for Cello and Piano, Op.123
Le Carnaval des animaux – Le Cygne
Romance in F, Op.36
Christian Poltéra (cello) & Kathryn Stott (piano)
Recorded 30 March-1 April 2009 in Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: December 2009
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10552
Duration: 65 minutes
This release unites two sides of Camille Saint-Saëns the chamber music composer, able to impress equally with his ability to write in musical forms both large and small.
The two cello sonatas are both substantial pieces, requiring both a sense of drama and intimacy. Christian Poltéra attacks the First Sonata’s imposing introduction with a bold tone, ably supported by Kathryn Stott’s flowing accompaniment. The players contrast this darkly dramatic music with a soft, song-like second idea that makes a lovely transformation to the major key second-time-round. The slow movement, with its roots in a funeral-march improvisation made by the composer on the organ, has a soft yet emotionally detached end that feels oddly appropriate, and prepares for the grand sweep of the finale, which the pair take at a quick tempo.
Both this and the performance of the Second Sonata capture the combination of energy and lyricism so typical of Saint-Saëns, with Poltéra’s technical command most impressive in the double-stops and tremolo that begin the work. Just occasionally Stott’s accompaniment becomes a little too heavy, and the fifth of the second-movement variations ends with quite a jolt, but elsewhere she reminds of her expertise in French music, the beautifully shaped phrases and rippling textures of the seventh variation more than a little reminiscent of Fauré. The cut and thrust of the faster variations finds the two in close ensemble, as does the vigorous finale, trading motifs at speed. Stott often makes the composer’s virtuoso piano-writing seem second-nature, pointing the arpeggiated writing beautifully without losing the melodic focus.
The players relax into the three ‘salon’ pieces, yielding not to temptation in a beautifully serene ‘The Swan’ while charming in the contemplative Prière and a passionately involved Romance.
In summary, this is a fine disc of late-Romantic chamber music, proof of Saint-Saëns’s melodic inspiration and skilful writing for both cello and piano. Poltéra and Stott communicate this with passion and flair.