PLAY: Works for Cello and Piano (CD review)

Edgar Moreau, cello; Pierre-Yves Hodique, piano. Erato 0825646369584.

Cellist Edgar Moreau started playing the cello when he was four years old, so as of this writing he has been playing the instrument for some sixteen years. Funny, because in his pictures he doesn't look much older than sixteen. No matter: He plays like someone who has been studying the cello for twice his lifetime. On the present disc, pianist Pierre-Yves Hodique accompanies Moreau, and he, too, appears quite young. Again, don't let appearances fool you; these two fellows make an excellent team.

At fifteen years of age, Moreau won the Young Soloist Prize at the Rostropovich Competition; then at seventeen he won second prize at the International Tchaikovsky Competition. He signed an exclusive contract with Erato/Warner Classics, and for this debut album (the title apparently inspired by modern computer usage, as in "Press the PLAY button"), Moreau explains that he "wanted a succession of genre pieces since they are also an integral part of the cello repertoire." He goes on to say that he "wanted to record a selection of them ranging from vocal transcription to virtuoso encore. With my faithful chamber music partner Pierre-Yves Hodique, we have often had fun punctuating our concerts and recitals with some of these pieces, and so it seemed obvious to us to feature these compositions that are always appreciated by the audience." In other words, the program comprises mainly brief, entertaining showpieces meant to highlight the talents of musicians. The beloved British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham might have called these selections bon-bons.

As it is, the program works pretty well. There is nothing here long enough to tax the patience of non or only mildly interested classical music listeners; the performers present the pieces in sterling interpretations; and Erato provide them pretty good sound. It's a winning combination, even if so many (seventeen tracks) short works (nothing over five or ten minutes each) may seem a bit spread out shotgun style for dedicated classical fans.

I think the main thing about all the performances on the disc is that Moreau and Hodique appear to be having a good time playing them. Not only are both artists meticulous virtuosos, they seem to love the music they're playing and love playing it together. Their musical partnership yields energetic, pleasurable, and technically satisfying results, the two performers continuously engaging in friendly instrumental dialogue and obvious good humor, even in the overtly sentimental tunes. The album is a good deal of fun.

Edgar Moreau
Since the music Moreau and Hodique have chosen is very popular and comes from just about everybody in the Romantic era and a little into the modern, let me point out just a few of the works I especially enjoyed. They begin with a genuine curtain-raiser in Vittorio Monti's Csardas, probably that composer's most-famous tune. Like the Hungarian dances that influenced it, the piece starts with a slow, poignant introduction, followed by a rousingly fast, Gypsy-inflected conclusion. The performers handle both segments with equal poise, bringing out the work's sentimental qualities and ending it in happy good cheer. Moreau's cello work sounds appropriately soulful and exhilarating by turns, and Hodique proves an able accompanist by matching but never overshadowing him at every turn.

And so it goes. Elgar's Salut d'amour sounds sweetly beguiling in Moreau's hands; Faure's Elegie is properly sad and wistful; Poulenc's Les Chemins de l'amour has all the qualities of a popular song in waltz time; Tchaikovsky's Valse sentimentale is satisfactorily melancholic; Popper's "Dance of the Elves" has a Mendelssohnian sparkle; Schubert's Ave Maria is as melodic as you'll hear; and the duo go out in style with Chopin's Introduction et Polonaise brillante. Then there are all the good things in between these numbers. The disc is a treat.

For the home listener, the question of how well Mr. Moreau might handle a longer, more-serious piece of music--a concerto or a sonata, for example--remains unanswered. But one thing is sure from listening to this album of short favorites: the man plays a mean cello.

Producers Alain Lanceron and Nicolas Bartholomee and mastering engineer Maximilien Ciup recorded the music at Salle Colonne, Paris, Eglise protestante Saint-Pierre in September 2013. It's one of the best-sounding discs I've heard from Erato. The two instrumentalists appear well positioned between the speakers. Both instruments are clear and detailed. Dynamic range, impact, and transient response are all suitable for the occasion. Moreover, air, bloom, room resonance, and dimensionality sound realistic enough to give the presentation an overall lifelike feeling. Nicely done, Erato.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


1 comment:

  1. May I just mention that the Poulenc should sound like a popular song in waltz time. Les Chemins de l'amour was written precisely as such. Lynne Dawson's is the best modern recording I know, although it is well worth going back to the song's original first performers, most notably Yvonne Printemps.

    ReplyDelete

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa