I imagine that composers have written teaching material for almost every conceivable instrument. This often takes the form of duets which the pupil and teacher can play together, and the best examples are usually written by practitioners of the instrument in question. Cellists are fortunate that Offenbach was not only an imaginative composer but was himself a virtuoso of the instrument. He wrote not only a number of solo works which made full use of such virtuosity but also sets of duets - from Op. 49 to Op. 54 - which together form a “Cours Méthodique de Duos pour Deux Violoncelles”. Op. 49 consists of six duets which are “très faciles” whereas Op. 54 are “très difficiles”. Op. 51 lie between the two and are described as “moyenne force”. Each Duo consists of several movements, usually three, with durations ranging from between one and five minutes for the Op. 49 set to nearly fourteen minutes for Op. 54.
This is music intended essentially for the use of the players, especially in the case of the earlier sets which the composer surely never expected to be played in public. It would be unreasonable to expect that too much as a listener from these pieces. The brief booklet note by Andrea Noferini rightly refers to them as “fun to play and a pleasure to listen to”. Pleasure is indeed the appropriate word for listening to all the music here even if only seldom was I aware of what Noferini calls “hypothetical hymns”, “mountain choruses”, “funeral processions” or “evocations of prayers”. For the player such comparisons may well be helpful but they are unlikely to obtrude on the listener’s consciousness.
The second disc contains the three most difficult Duos, and these certainly provoked astonishment from this listener at the players’ abilities. My only slight concern was that the faithful taking of the repeats in first movements can make them outstay their welcome. They are best listened to in an unhurried frame of mind where the player’s manifestly hard work increases the listener’s pleasure.
These are not the composer’s best or most interesting works but they do shed light on a significant aspect of his work. Any admirer of the composer will want to include them in their collections, as will cellists, and at the low price at which they are offered they are a potential source of much innocent pleasure to others too.