For all the ebullience of Bizet, the turbulence of Berlioz, the colour and diversity of Ravel, the stubborn quirkiness of Satie, French music doesn`t often `announce` itself in the way of, say, the Austro-German or English repertoires. It has little pomposity, seldom trying to `sell` the listener anything. Perhaps that`s why French classical music is so often the Cinderella at the ball, the apparently insubstantial Gallic presence among weightier guests.
This is of course a generalisation, but I believe it contains a truth. Considering in what high esteem the visual art of 19th century France is held, it seems strange that its music is less highly praised, or damned with its fainter version.
Gabriel Faure was both teacher (of, among others, Ravel) and composer. He is one of those French composers whose art is rarely if ever portentous or indulgently demonstrative - one thinks too of Dukas or Duparc - but whose music repays the attentive listener. There is a whiff of austerity in Faure, reminding me of a less frosty Holst or a balmier Bax at times.
Collected here are, as well as the superb 18-minute Cello Sonata #2, six shorter works for cello and piano. I was surprised how well I already knew two or three of the pieces, for example the lovely Romance and the slightly ominous-sounding Sicilienne. It was in fact first conceived (the booklet notes tell us) for violin and piano, and was also part of the score of Faure`s orchestral Pelleas et Melisande. No wonder it sounded familiar.
The rest of this all-too-brief 43-minute disc is often ravishingly exquisite, an example being the arrangement by cellist Steven Isserlis of Apres Un Reve, and sometimes gravely sad, as in the haunting Elegie.
Isserlis, a true musician among cellists, plays with exactly the right balance between lightness of touch and the required gravitas. He is accompanied by the sensitive piano of Pascal Devoyon on this 1986 recording from the ever-reliable