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Fauré: The Music for Cello & Piano - Brantelid, Forsberg

Fauré: The Music for Cello & Piano - Brantelid, Forsberg

BIS  BIS-2220

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber


Fauré: Romance, Op. 69, Papillon, Op. 77, Sérénade, Op. 98, Berceuse, Op. 16, Sonata No.1 in D minor for cello and piano, Op. 109, Morceau de lecture (1897), Berceuse, Op. 56 No. 1, from 'Dolly', Sicilienne, Op. 78, Élégie, Op. 24, Sonata No.2 in G minor for cello and piano, Op. 117, Andante for cello and harmonium (original version of Romance, Op. 69)

Andreas Brantelid (cello)
Bengt Forsberg (piano)


In French music, Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924) forms a link between Romanticism and Modernism: in Paris in the year of his birth, Chopin was still composing, and by the time of his death, jazz was all the rage, while Stravinsky was championing neoclassicism. This present recording contains all of Fauré’s music for cello and piano, including the much-loved Élégie and Sicilienne–pieces that are sometimes described as ‘salon music’, with qualities that caused Debussy to dub the composer ‘the master of charms’. But interspersed with this lighter fare are also the two sonatas from Fauré’s later period when, suffering from increasing deafness, he developed a more pared-down style.

Even though the sonatas came into being only a few years apart they are nevertheless quite different – appearing in 1917, Sonata No. 1 in D minor is very much a wartime work, at times almost violent. The G minor Sonata is altogether more accessible, with a vivacious finale that caused the composer Vincent d’Indy to remark to the 78-year old Fauré: ‘How lucky you are to stay young like that!’ Andreas Brantelid’s previous release for BIS –a disc with music by Grieg and Percy Grainger –received critical acclaim including a Gramophone Editor’s Choice. For this all-Fauré programme he has chosen to collaborate with pianist and highly respected chamber musician Bengt Forsberg.

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - May 17, 2017

For long Fauré was not amongst the best recorded composers in high resolution. However, things are rapidly changing. Not so long ago BIS treated us with a splendid release of his violin sonatas, and now, shortly after an excellent compilation of his piano music on Challenge Classics with the new Dutch star pianist, Hannes Minnaar, we get, once again from the adventurous Swedish label BIS, the two cello sonatas. A logical combination on record, but this time we get more than the usual host of assorted miniatures as well; altogether no less than his complete cello & piano oeuvre. For the high definition addicts surely a most welcome release, the more so since there is hardly any choice in this field, and for the cello sonatas there is none at all.

Welcome though it is, I always look with some circumspection at complete sets. For two reasons: completeness demands that everything, in the widest sense of the word, is included. Even Beethoven had its highs and lows. The second is that, depending on how they are spread over the disc, they risk distracting the listener’s concentration away from the two main items: the cello sonatas.

One would expect the shorter pieces to follow after the sonatas. But that is not the case here. And this is, quite frankly, my only quibble. The first Sonata follows after four, mostly ‘salon’ pieces and in between there are another four, before the second sonata starts. Perhaps that others like this mix. It has, in any case, nothing to do with attractive (smaller pieces) and compassionate (sonatas) playing of Brantelid (cello) and Forsberg (piano).

To address the sonatas first: Both, though only four years apart, are markedly different. The first one, written during the Second World War, sometimes having almost agitated characteristics that could be associated with it, is still engaged in adjusting his musical language to modernity ‘à sa façon’, whereas Fauré’s second, written towards the end of his life, is more melodiously looking backwards to an earlier period in his career, as if resigning in what he cherished most: a positive message set in shades of soft pastel.

The Danish cellist, Andreas Brantelid, is not the first winner of the Euro-vision Young Musicians Competition (2006) who carved himself a successful career. His previous release for BIS Grieg: Cello sonata, Grainger: La Scandinavie - Andreas Brantelid/Christian Ihle Hadland earned him much praise and this one does, indeed, demonstrate his talented all-roundness.

The French, having a tendency to believe that only French musicians know how to play French composers, occasionally look with barely concealed misgivings whenever a non-French artist tries to emulate the so typical French mood. Whilst accepting a healthy degree of French chauvinism, I cannot but admit that Brantelid proves that such apprehension is unreasonable as he adopts so easily, like a musical chameleon, the French touch.

In sonatas such as these, the cello is supposed to take a dominant part. With Fauré it is different. The piano is much more than just an ‘accompanying instrument’. With the exception of his one and last string quartet Op. 121, all of Fauré’s chamber music include a piano; undoubtedly for laying a solid supporting foundation around which the stringed instrument(s) revolve. In both sonatas Bengt Forsberg showed himself to be on the one hand a faithful accompanist, and on the other a stimulating and often leading partner.

As could be expected the assorted, smaller pieces are of variable quality, ranging from ‘salon’ to ‘virtuoso’. We find many of his familiar and famous ‘tunes’, like the ‘Berceuse’ Op. 16 (composed for cello or violin). Of particular interest are the Andante for Cello and Harmonium (here with piano) and - the shortest of them all (45”) - ‘Morceau de lecture’ for two celli (one pizzicato, here on the piano).

Those sensitive for intonation should expect some glitches in the odd bonus track. That said, and apart from my wish to have the miniatures at the end rather than spread over the programme, lovers of French impressionism will find here much to enjoy. All in all a recommendable choice. Hopefully we may look forward to more of the same like, for instance, the piano quartets and ditto quintets.

The liner notes give much detailed and compelling reading, putting everything in its proper perspective. The recording is of the usual BIS standard.

Blangy-le-Château,
Normandy, France

Copyright © 2017 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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