Pierre Fournier at the Lucerne Festival = DVORAK: Cello Concerto in b minor, Op. 104; SAINT-SAENS: Cello Concerto No. 1 in a minor, Op. 33; CASALS: El cant dels ocells – Pierre Fournier, cello/ Swiss Festival Orch./ Istvan Kertesz (Dvorak)/ Orch. Philharmonique de la RTF/ Jean Martinon (Saint-Saens)/ Festival Strings Lucerne/ Matthias Bamert (Casals) – Audite 95.628, 60:53 (4/14/15) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

“The aristocrat of cellists,” Pierre Fournier (1906-1986), has wonderful representation in three of his appearances at the Lucerne Festival, 1952-1967. The collaboration in the Dvorak Cello Concerto in B Minor (16 August 1967) with the gifted Hungarian maestro Istvan Kertesz proves particularly auspicious, especially since Kertesz (1929-1973) – a noted advocate for the music of Dvorak and the first to inscribe the complete symphonies on record – died by misadventure before having made any commercial recording of the work.

The loving nobility of the conception permeates the entire performance, right through the B Major peroration at the Finale. Too often described as an “understated” artist, Fournier rather remains adept at imparting his grand passion with aesthetic taste, driving forward in the Molto sostenuto episode and deferring the more pungent drama to Kertesz’s aroused players. Typically, the interior voices of the orchestra – the flute, clarinet, horn and brass – complement Fournier in elastic colors, given Fournier’s penchant for personal adjustments in tempo, accent, and articulation.  For many, the pure singing quality of the Adagio movement – rife with the composer’s expressions of love for Josefina Kounicova – warrants the entry fee to this inspired realization, what one contemporary critic enshrined with the epithet, “a noblesse. . .of unmistakable gentility.”

For an immediate contrast of style, Fournier takes immediate relish in the A Minor Concerto of Camille Saint-Saens, as performed with Jean Martinon (10 September 1962). Here, the emphasis lies in rhythmic dazzle, spectacularly light bow work, and pungent energy. Martinon (1910-1976) devoted considerable effort to the music of Saint-Saens, and he effortlessly drives the one-movement work through its various changes of temperament – in the style of Liszt – with controlled verve.  The singing quality of the last section’s melody conveys a lithe authentic sentiment, typically the epitome of le bon gout within the basically bravura vehicle.

The Casals “Song of the Birds” (4 September 1976) marks the last appearance of Fournier at the Festival. Fournier prefaces his collaboration with Matthias Bamert with complimentary words about Casals, and then he demands that the piece be received in silence, as a memory of the great Italian cellist, Enrico Mainardi (1897-1976).  The fluttering of the Festival Strings Lucerne, in collaboration with Fournier’s sweet lament, create a valediction forbidding mourning, since it becomes obvious that Mainardi’s generous spirit hovers over every musical measure.

—Gary Lemco