Entrez, le Diable!
It’s almost unfathomable that a cello could provoke a scandal, but this appears to have been in the case in the 1730s in France. Stepping to the fore in place of the elegant viola da gamba, the temperamental cello shocked ears at an admired concert series, compelling the French viol player Hubert Le Blanc to declare the offending instrument ‘a miserable canker, wretch, and poor Devil’. Thus this illuminating disc’s title, ‘Entrez, le Diable! The Virtuoso Cello at the Concert Spirtuel’.
The brains (and limbs) behind the programme is baroque cellist Juliana Soltis, who performs works by four French composers with almost diabolical personality and, oui, finesse. The composers’ names wouldn’t trip off the tongue of most listeners but their music reveals why the cello came across as so progressive and dangerous.
Salvatore Lanzetti’s Sonata in E minor thrusts the cello into fierce displays of technique and impassioned rhetoric, while Martin Berteau’s Sonata in G makes enchanting use of ethereal harmonics. Soltis states in her booklet notes that François Martin prompted the cello to face an unusual challenge in the first movement of his captivating Sonata in D: using the player’s chin to produce a pedal tone. Two sonatas by Jean-Baptiste Barrière give the cello ample opportunity to sing and perform acrobatics.
The intrepid Soltis hurls herself into all of the music, producing gritty sounds and explosive passagework when she isn’t caressing lines with poetic grace. Her colleagues could hardly play with more devilish allure.