Siècle - Leonard Elschenbroich
Leonard Elschenbroich’s burgeoning discography continues to defy convention. This time it is not the music itself that is unfamiliar but rather the way in which the cellist has chosen to pull together a disparate programme representing a century of French creativity. Comparisons might seem beside the point given the dearth of comparable projects.
Elschenbroich’s dark, lean sonority cuts across other expectations too. The sequence begins with a fiercely immediate realisation of the Dutilleux concerto, the most recent score, here rather sounding it: rivals tend to inhabit a subtler, more rarefied (more French?) sound world. Then a switch to cello and piano for Messiaen, the fifth movement of his Quatuor pour la fin du temps sounding plaintive rather than earth-shattering in this context. Still, we shouldn’t obsess about authenticity. The music was originally conceived for Fête des belles eaux (1937) and the whoop of multiple ondes martenot. What follows is Debussy’s Cello Sonata, aptly lean rather than refulgent, with an arrangement for cello and piano of Ravel’s Pièce en forme de habanera appended. Pianist Alexei Grynyuk is ceaselessly imaginative, very much an equal partner.
Placed last is Saint-Saëns’s First Cello Concerto, for which Swiss-born Stefan Blunier takes over from John Wilson at the helm of the BBC Scottish SO – the back inlay could be clearer on this point. The delightful central Allegretto sounds more melancholy than usual, not that there is undue focus on the composer’s Romantic lineage. Truls Mørk’s recent recording, part of a quite different single-composer selection under Neeme Järvi (Chandos, 1/16), is more relaxed in feeling, with the soloist placed under less intense sonic scrutiny.
Elschenbroich, who has previously contributed his own elucidatory booklet notes, offers no commentary on this occasion. Recommended nonetheless. Just don’t expect too much in the way of Gallic insouciance.