Elgar Cello Concerto; Brahms Double Concerto; Debussy Cello Sonata

Tortelier’s distinctive Elgar captured live, plus a splendid family Double, too

Author: 
Edward Greenfield

Elgar Cello Concerto; Brahms Double Concerto; Debussy Cello Sonata

  • Concerto for Cello and Orchestra
  • Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra
  • Sonata for Cello and Piano

This generous collection of three favourite works provides a fine portrait of the great French cellist Paul Tortelier at the height of his career in the post-war period. It is specially valuable to have his view of the Elgar Cello Concerto, which he recorded commercially at least three times. Here it comes in a live recording which gives an even warmer, more spontaneous-sounding view of the piece in his distinctive interpretation.

I remember him
telling me that Elgar’s markings should not be exaggerated, in particular the marking tenuto, at which many interpreters bring the music practically to a halt. In the second-movement Scherzo, for example, the drawing out of the tempo in two key places is markedly less here than in most rival readings. Tortelier also felt that the portamento slides should be kept to a minimum in the first movement, something he was able to achieve thanks to his very large hands – a point well made by Tully Potter in his excellent booklet-notes. Even so, there is no lack of warmth in the dedicated slow movement or the meditative epilogue, which are given their full emotional weight.

The performance of Brahms’s Double Concerto has similar qualities, and is important too for demonstrating what a fine violinist Tortelier’s son Yan Pascal is. The bright purity of his violin tone contrasts illuminatingly with the richness of his father’s cello tone.

The performance of the Debussy Sonata dates from much earlier, a 1959 studio recording, which yet brings out the natural spontaneity with which Tortelier tackled this improvisational work with its many stops and starts. With him it sounds as though he is inventing the ideas on the spot. Recording quality is generally good, though in the Elgar the audience is irritatingly bronchial at times.

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