From Latin America to Paris
This engaging disc finds Lionel Cottet, the Swiss-born principal cellist of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, teaming up with the Mexican pianist Jorge Viladoms for a French-South American musical dialogue in which everything comes in equivalent pairs. The cello sonatas by Debussy and Manuel Ponce, written roughly contemporaneously, are the main works, flanked by shorter couplings comparable in subject and mood. So Saint-Saëns’s ‘Le cygne’ is juxtaposed with Villa-Lobos’s Song of the Black Swan; Fauré’s Élégie contrasts with the greater desolation of Ginastera’s ‘Triste’; and Pièce en forme de habanera, one of Ravel’s forays into Latin American dance music, takes its place alongside Piazzolla’s Oblivion. The Thaïs Méditation is out on a limb, though there are two arrangements of Ponce’s Estrellita: the first, by Heifetz, is fairly straightforward; the second, by Gaspard Glaus, gradually morphs into an up-tempo jazz piece that forms a virtuoso encore at the disc’s close.
The performances similarly depend upon contrasts and tensions between Cottet’s ultra-refinement and Viladoms’s extrovert dynamism. Ponce’s unwieldy four-movement Sonata is piano-driven, its keyboard-writing strenuous, and Cottet takes a few moments to assert himself against Viladoms’s bravado at the start, though the Allegro alla maniera d’uno studio, which forms the work’s scherzo, is wonderful in its intricate dexterity. In the Debussy, the polarities are reversed, and Cottet very much takes the lead in an interpretation that is all the more striking for its subtlety and restraint. Among the shorter pieces, Villa-Lobos’s swan is particularly exquisite, and the pair’s starkly novel way with Fauré’s Élégie, from which every trace of sentimentality has been removed, serves as a reminder that we should never take such familiar music for granted. The recording itself, made in RTS’s Geneva studios, is ideally warm and clear. Someone should have done something with the booklet notes, though, which get dates wrong and come in gruesome translator‑ese.