Anne Gastinel / Claire Désert FRANCK - DEBUSSY - POULENC

This is an excellent version of Poulenc’s Cello Sonata. It has a persuasive sense of direction and a well-judged series of tempo decisions. It’s also warmly played, and ensemble between Anne Gastinel and Claire Désert is watertight. If your classic recording of choice is that of Pierre Fournier with Jacques Février—and I suppose that 1971 LP disc looms large in the discography—then you should know that the newcomers have their own views about things, and they ensure a convincing milieu for the work. Maybe the older pair breathed more naturally at certain points in the first movement—one feels their paragraphal phrasing is the more natural—but that doesn’t limit admiration for Gastinel and Désert, who take a more incisive tempo for the slow movement and sustain it well. It’s a passionate point of view, but then it is a passionate movement and one of the most outspoken in all of Poulenc’s music. Witty badinage restores things in the Ballabile third movement, and while Fournier emphasizes some of the more spectral moments in the finale with greater impact and immediacy, the more up-to-date and natural dynamic range of this Naïve recording proves laudable. This then is a compelling and first-class account of the sonata.
The Debussy sonata reprises the virtues of the Poulenc, though it does so in a way that signals the players’ freedom from convention. They don’t play in as arresting a manner as those pioneering French musicians Maurice Maréchal and Robert Casadesus, who, in their 1930 recording, performed with unselfconscious directness. But they do abjure some of the more outré gestures that have accreted to, say, the Sérénade’s pizzicatos, which is well and good in my book. They play with assurance throughout, though my own preferences lie with the classic older statement and also with the more phrasally suggestive playing of Tortelier and Gerald Moore in their 1948 disc, now in a huge Paul Tortelier EMI retrospective box.
The last work is the transcription of the Franck Violin Sonata made by Jules Delsart, with the approval of the composer, in 1888. This has been an increasingly popular option for cellists, and Gastinel and Désert play with a canny appreciation of when to press on and when to fine-down tone. Gastinel’s vibrato speed is well judged, and the pianist, who shoulders most of the truly taxing demands, acquits herself estimably.
This fine recital has been warmly recorded, is well balanced and reflects well on all concerned. (Jonathan Woolf)

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