Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:


DUTILLEUX: Trois strophes sur le nom de SACHER (1976-82)
HENZE: Serenade (1949)
CRUMB: Sonata (1955)
LIGETI: Sonata (1948-53)
BACRI: Suite No. 4 (1994-96).
Emmanuelle Bertrand (cello)
Recorded: July 1999
HARMONIA MUNDI HMN 911699 [60.05]
Crotchet   £5.99 AmazonUK £6.99  AmazonUS

The young French cellist, Emmanuelle Bertrand has won several international prizes since graduating from the Lyons Conservatory in 1992. She has a strong interest in contemporary music, as is evidenced on this CD which contains five works, the earliest of which was written in 1949.

Four of the composers are well known figures but the name of Nicolas Bacri (b1961) is new to me. Sadly, the liner notes provide little information about him save that the present work is dedicated to Emmanuelle Bertrand and that she gave its first performance, in Japan in 1997. Presumably the fact that Bacri had composed four suites for solo cello by the age of 36 indicates that he is strongly attracted to writing for this instrument.

His Suite No 4 is in five movements and, at 19 minutes, is the longest on this disc. In the first movement, 'Preludio', passages of pizzicato alternate with recitative-like bowed sections which give Bertrand the opportunity to show off her full, rich tone. This is followed by a vigorous presto, 'Sonata Gioconda', which calls for energetic bowing from the player. At the centre of the work is an intermezzo, marked Adagio lamentoso. Here the music exploits the cello's full range as does the succeeding andante, 'Sonata Seria'. Both movements are profoundly serious in tone and are eloquently played by Bertrand. After all this some contrast would be welcome but instead Bacri concludes his work with yet another melancholy slow movement, an adagio 'Postludio'. This brings the piece full circle, concluding the Suite, as it began, with quiet pizzicato notes. The work is an eloquent vehicle for Miss Bertrand, if a rather unremittingly serious one.

The Bacri is the last work on the CD. The recital opens with the work by Henri Dutilleux. We are told that it was this piece which first fired Miss Bertrand's interest in contemporary music and she subsequently studied it with the composer in preparation for this recording. Dutilleux himself contributes a short liner note praising her performance of his work.

In a short essay accompanying the disc Miss Bertrand describes the Dutilleux work one which marks "…a decisive turning point in the musical and technical evolution of the cello." Certainly, it appears that the composer has taken the opportunity to employ as many technical devices as possible to produce a wide variety of textures and timbres and the piece must be fiendishly difficult to play (it is certainly not easy to listen to). Apparently he has used the German musical alphabet to transliterate the name Sacher (E flat, A, C, B, E, D) for thematic material. I presume the Sacher in question is the late conductor and patron of twentieth century composers, Paul Sacher. However, on this point (as on much else) the liner notes give no help at all.

Indeed, it is very difficult to pass comment on the music contained on this CD since the accompanying notes are, frankly, woefully inadequate. They consist of a biography of the soloist and some comments by her about the evolution of the solo cello repertory in the last century. All this is fair enough, but surely Harmonia Mundi should also have provided some detailed notes about the individual pieces, most of which, if not all, will be unfamiliar to most listeners. Similarly, some background information about the composers should have been provided, especially about Bacri whose name will probably be unknown to most listeners, as it was to me. In the absence of such basic information the listener coming new to this repertoire has few points of reference to aid his or her appreciation.

In these days of apparent crisis in the recording industry Harmonia Mundi deserve praise for issuing an enterprising disc such as this: what a pity to diminish the project through inadequate documentation.

To return to the music. The Henze is an early, relatively light work which consists of nine short movements, the longest of which only lasts 1'16. As with all the works she plays here, Bertrand seems to rise effortlessly to all its challenges.

Ligeti's two-movement Sonata is also one of his earlier works and is surprisingly approachable. The first movement, 'Dialogo', contains music of a lyrical eloquence absent from those of his later works which I have heard. The succeeding 'Capriccio' is a presto which hurtles by, pausing only for a brief, slower central section.

The sonata by the American composer, George Crumb (b1929), is a more substantial offering, though it too is short, lasting only 12 minutes. It consists of three movements, an opening 'Fantasia'; a theme with three variations; and a concluding toccata. Unlike the Bacri, the three movements offer plenty of contrast and this piece by Crumb strikes me as a work of some substance. To my ears it is the most interesting and rewarding item on the disc and, once again, it is superbly dispatched by Emmanuelle Bertrand.

Throughout a programme which is demanding for both performer and listener Bertrand offers superb playing which is captured in excellent sound. I suspect that this CD will only appeal to specialist collectors but to them it can be recommended confidently.

John Quinn

SOME BACKGROUND ON NICOLAS BACRI courtesy M. Bacri (added by Editor)

Bacri, Nicolas was born in Paris, 23 Nov 1961. Studied with Louis Saguer. Paris Conservatoire (graduated 1983, first prize for composition), with Claude Ballif, Marius Constant, Serge Nigg and Michel Philippot. At Académie de France in Rome (1983-85) met Scelsi, who had a great influence on him. From 1987 head of chamber music department of Radio-France until 1991. Early works incl First Symphony (1983-4, ded Elliott Carter). Cello Concerto (1985/87, ded Dutilleux) are more melodic.

WORKS include Fleur et le miroir magique (conte lyrique pour enfants, l, C. Juliet), op. 56, 1996-7 Orch : 6 syms., "Conc. for Orch", 1996-7; 2 vn; 2 clarinet Conc.,; 2 tpt Conc.; Vc Conc., op.17; Requiem.

Publishers : Durand, Paris. Salabert, Paris ; Peer Music, Hamburg

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