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Maurice Maréchal (cello)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Cello Sonata in D minor, L.135 (1915) [9:45] Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)
Cello Concerto in D major; Grave [2:29] Giuseppe SAMMARTINI (1695-1750)
Cello Sonata in G major [7:27] Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Cello Sonata No.2 in G minor, Op.5 No. 2 (1796) [22:11] Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Cello Sonata No.1 in E minor, Op.38 (1862-65) [20:46]
Lily Bienvenu (piano: Debussy) Odette Pigault (piano: Tartini, Sammartini) Cécile Ousset (piano: Beethoven, Brahms)
rec. live, Paris, Radiodiffusion Française, November 1948 (Debussy); April 1957 (Tartini, Sammartini); April 1958 (Beethoven); October 1959 (Brahms) MELO CLASSIC MC3006 [62:40]
High on my list of most admired soloists is French cellist Maurice Maréchal (1892-1964), whose characteristically woody tone and refined legato phrasing graced so many recordings in the 78 era and beyond. Forgotten Records has recently disinterred the Brahms Cello Sonatas he recorded on LP but here is something even more valuable, unexpected and memorable – a series of Paris radio broadcasts made between 1948 and 1959.
It starts with the earliest, a November 1948 broadcast, with pianist Lily Bienvenu, of Debussy’s Cello Sonata. He had recorded this back in 1930 with Robert Casadesus, a classic reading, still stylistically pretty much unmatched. Almost twenty years later we find the proportions of the sonata unchanged in this performance, where the music is tautly but flexibly driven forward with no concessions to indulgence or extraneous gesture. The second movement pizzicati aren’t hammered or bent out of shape, as one too often hears today, and the nervous incision and rhythmic vitality of the finale remain dashing examples of the cellist’s art. He is sensitively supported by Bienvenu but the conception is wholly the cellist’s, one feels. There’s a small amount of disc chuffing in the first movement but it’s negligible.
After the War, Maréchal began to be afflicted with a progressive muscular illness that particularly robbed his bow arm of strength. I can’t hear any signs of it in 1948 but the LP discs he made certainly sound more constrained. The 1957-58 radio sessions present two of his reportorial strengths; baroque works and major sonatas. The Tartini movement from the Cello Concerto reveals a legato seemingly untroubled by right arm problems, the noble tone intact. Sammartini’s Sonata in G major is both playful and warmly textured in this reading. Maréchal’s trill is still tight and his puckish instincts in the finale winning. Odette Pigault is the accompanist.
These broadcasts come from a decade in which he wound down his public career, performing less often in public, making radio broadcasts, and continuing to teach. I’m not sure how often he would have performed the Beethoven and Brahms sonatas publicly in the later 1950s, but they were pretty central to his repertoire. They document his partnership with young pianist Cécile Ousset, then very much at the start of her own career as Maréchal’s was drawing to a close. There’s a good balance in these performances, the Beethoven from April 1958 and the Brahms from October 1959. The cellist manages to conceal most of his problems, especially in the Beethoven, where only a slackening vibrato reveals much in the way of frailty. In many ways I prefer this broadcast Brahms to the LP he made in 1952 with Jeanne-Marie Darré (on FR168) because it has an extra quotient of spontaneity and freedom. The cool Paris studio recording allows detail to be heard that is sometimes occluded in the Pathé LP transferred by Forgotten Records. Some of the cellist’s chording is a little smeary and some detail is fudged but there’s no real sign of short-breathed phrasing.
As usual in this series a digipack presentation is enhanced by fine notes and photographs. These are all first CD releases for this archive broadcast material, and presentation, including studio announcements, is accomplished. For admirers of the cellist this is an indispensable release and I strongly urge collectors of string and piano releases to scan Melo Classic’s current and forthcoming discs. There are some remarkable things on offer.