FAURE: Cello Sonata No. 1; Cello Sonata No. 2; Elegie; Romance; Papillon; Serenade; Sicilienne; Allegro commodo – Alban Gerhardt, cello/ Cecile Licad, p. – Hyperion

FAURE: Cello Sonata No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 109; Cello Sonata No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 117; Elegie, Op. 24; Romance, Op. 69; Papillon, Op. 77; Serenade, Op. 98; Sicilienne, Op. 78; Allegro commodo from Sonata No. 1 – Alban Gerhardt, cello/ Cecile Licad, piano – Hyperion CDA67872, 64:12 (1/3/12) [Distr. By Harmonia mundi] ****:
German cellist Alban Gerhardt and Filipino piano virtuoso Cecile Licad collaborate (rec. 21-23 October 2010) in seven selected cello works by Gabriel Faure, composed 1880-1920. Given the discrepancy of tempo of the last movement of the First Sonata, Gerhardt and Licad opt to play both the slower and faster versions of the Allegro commodo, whose character shifts dramatically through the two opposing musical lenses.
Faure’s cello catalogue, chronologically, commences with the famous Elegie that premiered at the home of Camille Saint-Saens. Gerhardt immediately exerts his intensely personal focus through his Matteo Gofriller instrument, the alternate pathos and nostalgically delicate passages rendered with tender clarity. The brief but potent bravura episode indicates the potency of Licad’s keyboard. The comparatively brief Romance (1894) proves almost stereotypical of Faure’s ruminative character in modal harmonies, the vocal line appealing enough to Faure for him to use again in his Shylock incidental music. The diaphanous last page has the cello end on a high A.
Faure did not approve of the designation for his cello piece Papillon by publisher Hamelle, the piece set in five linked sections, three fast and two eminently lyrical. The busy notes suggest a Gallic bumblebee as opposed to the Russian honey gatherer fashioned by Rimsky-Korsakov. In 1908, Faure composed a Serenade for Pablo Casals, who at the time was engaged to Portuguese cellist Guilhermina Suggia. The piece has a knotty “antique” flavor, a kind of modernist Baroque or late-Renaissance, Catalan sensibility. The 1898 Sicilienne we recognize immediately as the delicious melodic movement from Pelleas et Melisande, Op. 46, moving gracefully between G Minor and E-flat Major.
Faure reworked material from his 1884 Symphony in D Minor to become his D Minor Cello Sonata of 1917. By now, Faure’s personal harmony had become fixed in its modal restlessness, and the Allegro deciso maintains a darkly haunted lyricism that occasionally bristles with pungent aggression, reminiscent of the Lalo Concerto in the same key. The ensuing Andante undergoes its own evolution from G Minor to G Major, incorporating two motives, one dotted and autumnal, the other in the manner of a sarabande we might guess belongs to Ravel. Licad’s right hand evokes some of that composer’s bells in the dolorous accompaniment. For sheer harmonious sonority, this movement stands for the “pure” style of Faure! A sumptuous climax evolves that gently subsides. Typical of late Faure, contrapuntal writing suffuses the liquid last movement, Allegro commodo, here taken for its commodo character, while the last band offers the more sunny aspect of an Allegro reading. Faure’s personal song reverberates throughout this elegant music, rendered in delicious sound, courtesy of recording engineer Simon Eadon.
The G Minor Sonata dates from 1921, after Faure had retired from his post as Director of the Paris Conservatoire, due to increased deafness and failing health. But the Master’s capacity for ardent, modal song remains undiminished, and he will employ canonic devices to intensify an already wistful series of emotions. Dark colors suffuse the opening Allegro, the hues modal and scalar in content, the cello’s leading voice deeply resonant. Only near the coda does the keyboard part open up some vaulting filigree, but the cello soon regains its dominance. The stately Andante has Faure’s reviving music he had composed for the 100th anniversary on the death of Napoleon, a Chant funeraire reminiscent of the famous Chopin funeral march. Virtually an unbroken cantilena figures in this Andante, a sustained, passionate, and noble melancholy. Quite  a vehicle, this, for cellist Gerhardt’s expressive powers. Faure marks the finale Allegro vivo, its two themes alternating a jazzy figure against a mock chorale. Licad’s piano remains busy as ever, staccato e parlando, as required. The modal character of the melodic line eludes every definition except that of “Faure.” The last pages exploit some virtuosity in both parts, the welter of colors at moments claiming Debussy as both heir and influence.
—Gary Lemco

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