DEBUSSY Sonatas and Trio
>‘The musical genius of France is something like fantasy in sensibility’, said Debussy, and if it’s still hard to swallow the idea that his three late sonatas were the product of a fervent wartime nationalism, the notion that these extraordinary pieces are essentially fantasies is a lot easier to accept. Especially in these captivating performances by a team of six world-famous ‘musiciens francophones’, as the cover describes them (musical nationalism dies hard, it seems).
Because fantasy is certainly the unifying factor here. If there’s such a thing as distinctly Gallic cello-playing, Edgar Moreau’s narrow-bore sound and deft articulation surely embody it to perfection. His rubbery pizzicatos match Bertrand Chamayou’s sharply characterised pianism in the central ‘Sérénade’ to evoke a figure uncannily like Petrushka. Renaud Capuçon and Chamayou find a similar rapport in the Violin Sonata: this is a beautifully paced performance, and Capuçon is sparing with the full richness of his tone – which paradoxically makes the whole thing only more sensuous. When all three come together in the youthful Piano Trio, the combination of elegant restraint and sweet (but never exaggerated) rapture is both affecting and gently amusing.
And although none of these players appears in the Sonata for flute, viola and harp, the spirit of fantasy carries over. Gérard Caussé, in particular, can switch in a blink from velvet softness to a ringing, nasal clarity, and in the sonata’s opening ‘Pastorale’ the group’s colours and articulation vary almost by the phrase. My only reservation involves the recording. A close chamber ambience for the string pieces is replaced by a more resonant acoustic for the two flute works, and what’s tolerable in Emmanuel Pahud’s eloquent Syrinx leads to congestion in the sonata. Still, the playing throughout this disc is so sensitive and stylish that you might well choose to overlook that.