Thursday, May 18, 2017

Gabriel Fauré - Cello Sonatas (Alban Gerhardt; Cecile Licad)


Composer: Gabriel Fauré
  1. Cello Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 109: 1. Allegro deciso
  2. Cello Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 109: 2. Andante
  3. Cello Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 109: 3. Allegro commodo
  4. Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 117: 1. Allegro
  5. Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 117: 2. Andante
  6. Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 117: 3. Allegro vivo
  7. Elegie, Op. 24
  8. Romance, Op. 69
  9. Papillon, Op. 77
  10. Serenade, Op. 98
  11. Sicilienne, Op. 78
  12. Cello Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 109: 3. Allegro commodo (faster version)

Alban Gerhardt, cello
Cecile Licad, piano
Date: 2012
Label: Hyperion



I’m probably wrong, but I can’t recall another time in my life than the last 10–12 years when, it seems, we’ve had more great cellists in the world than ever before. I can recall many decades in which we seemed to have a surfeit of excellent pianists, yes; even the late, great Bruce Hungerford had trouble competing against his kith and kin back in the 1960s. Violinists, certainly; the widespread popularity of Heifetz, Menuhin, Szigeti, Stern, and Oistrakh helped spawn a virtual population of wonderful violinists. But I continue to hear excellent cellists on CD nearly every month now, and they are generally much more than just OK, they are superb in so many ways. Alban Gerhardt, who has been in the international spotlight for some time now, is yet another to finally come to my attention. 

Moreover, Gerhardt excels in this music despite some very stiff competition: Paul Tortelier and Eric Heidsieck on EMI 74333, Steven Isserlis and Pascal Devoyon on RCA 68049, and Ina-Esther Joost Ben-Sasson and Allan Sternfield on Naxos 8570545. It’s hard to put into words, but Gerhardt has what I would describe as a buttery tone; it is not so much golden as it is a glowing amber, with a pliability and flexibility that almost seems to flow from note to note in a manner more liquid than solid. Of course, he is greatly aided in his interpretations by the equally liquid tone of Cecile Licad, who has long been one of those pianists I can always rely on to give me a performance that is both rhythmically alert and sensitively shaded. In French music, particularly, Licad, like Jean-Yves Thibaudet and several others, can do no wrong. 

Thus, in these interpretations, the Fauré sonatas and various short pieces flow like butter. In a sense, such performances sometime detract from our absorption of the musical structure; with everything being so fluid, the music washes over us like an aural balm. But this is OK, too, since Fauré, like his successor Debussy, is a composer whose music is as much atmospheric as it is structural. One interesting feature of this recording is that Gerhardt and Licad give us two versions of the sonata No. 1’s finale, one slow (though quicker than the written tempo) and one at the more acceptable Allegro tempo taken by most cellists. (In the liner notes it is said that Tortelier, who practiced the last movement at the slower tempo, was convinced of the faster one by his accompanist, Eric Heidsieck, on the day they made their recording of it!) I prefer the faster tempo, believing (as many cellists do) that the metronome mark is a misprint. 

Hyperion gives Gerhardt and Licad a nice studio ambience without drowning out the sound of their instruments in over-reverb. Good for them! 

If you love this repertoire, you can’t go wrong with this CD. These performances are indeed magical, easily on a par with the three versions noted above.

-- Lynn René Bayley, FANFARE

More reviews:


Gabriel Fauré (12 May 1845 – 4 November 1924) was a French composer, organist, pianist and teacher. He was one of the foremost French composers of his generation, and his musical style influenced many 20th-century composers. Among his best-known works are his Pavane, Requiem, nocturnes for piano and the songs "Après un rêve" and "Clair de lune". Fauré composed many of his most highly regarded works in his later years, in a more harmonically and melodically complex style. His music has been described as linking the end of Romanticism with 20th century modernism.


Alban Gerhardt (born 1969 in Berlin) is a German cellist. His father, Axel Gerhardt, was a second violinist of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for over 40 years. He studied with  Markus Nyikos, who he credits with much of his success. Gerhardt won top prizes in several competitions in the early 1990s. Gerhardt has won three ECHO Klassik Awards, ICMA and MIDEM Classic awards, as well as BBC Music Magazine Award in 2015. He has made several commercial records for Hyperion and Chandos Records. He plays a cello made by Matteo Gofriller in 1710; the instrument previously belonged to Benito Mussolini.


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