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Jean-Baptiste JANSON (1742-1803)
Cello Concerto [20:39]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Cello Sonata in D minor (1915) [11:17]
Claude PASCAL (b.1921)
Cello Concerto (1959) [24:57]
André Navarra (cello)
Orchestre de l’Académie Internationale d’Été de Nice/André Amellér (Janson)
Jean Doyen (piano) (Debussy)
Orchestre Philharmonique de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française/Paul Paray (Pascal)
rec. live, August 1960, Nice (Janson), October 1962, Paris (Debussy) and September 1960, Paris (Pascal)
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR 829 [56:53]

This disc is somewhat out-of-the-ordinary for this label which specialises in the restoration of LP recordings - hard to find, overlooked, indeed Forgotten - from the 1950s. Instead its focus is on the 1960s - just - and live broadcast material. In addition there is a booklet note, something that is more increasingly welcome from Forgotten Records. It consists of eight pages on Claude Pascal, whose Cello Concerto is performed. A discography is also included, which is useful.
 
The protagonist in all performances is one of the Princes of the French cello school, André Navarra. He plays the Haydnesque Concerto of Jean-Baptiste Janson with considerable aristocracy, legato assurance, and fine tone. I’m not sure whether the extensive first-movement cadenza is written out or whether it’s the work of someone else - perhaps Navarra himself - but it’s played in grand style. Pensive little dips into the minor illuminate the slow movement and there’s genial rhythmic licence to be heard in the finale full of Navarra’s joie de vivre. The audience responds with delighted enthusiasm. The orchestra is really only so-so and the close miking exaggerate Navarra’s shifts, and the occasional cello slaps especially in the faster passagework of the first movement.
 
Navarra has the assured pianism of Jean Doyen upon which to depend when essaying Debussy’s Sonata in Paris in 1962. His speeds are in no way indulgent, though it’s true that they don’t match - few do, or have - the lithe ones set back in 1930 by Maurice Maréchal. Again, his pizzicati in the Sérénade are unexaggerated, unlike so many current performers who turn them into Charles Mingus-like contortions. The movement’s central section moves fleetly and logically toward the buoyantly rhythmic finale, aptly tonally expressive in this fine performance.
 
Pascal, who was born in 1921, wrote his Concerto in 1959 and we hear the premiere performance. Reading the French notes I see that Micha Haran, a Navarra pupil, performed it in Israel in 2011 with the Israel Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta. Maybe a recording could yet emerge. The concerto is in no way intimidating - quite the contrary. It is light-hearted, genial and traditional for the most part; the wind/cello writing is cleverly done. There’s a very slightly Mahlerian march pattern in the central movement but I would also point perhaps to the influence of Russian composers - Prokofiev and Shostakovich - in the brassy central panel with its dance motifs. There’s a bold and brassy finale with a military snap to it. Superficially approachable though it is, maybe there’s a subtext to some of its more eruptive moments.
 
I’d not come across any of these live performances before. The repertoire may well also prove enticing for admirers of this great cellist.
 
Jonathan Woolf 

 

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