The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: Anssi Kartunnen (cello) Tuija Hakkila (piano)
Composer: Fauré, Duparc

Cellists have recently acquired a reputation for being pirates of other instruments’ repertoire. And as nothing is safe, it seems only reasonable that Fauré’s sublime First Violin Sonata should enter the cello domain. But it requires more than a straightforward transcription to work effectively, as there are many issues of tessitura and figuration to consider. The first version to attempt this kind of arrangement on disc came from Yo-Yo Ma, whose recording with Kathryn Stott (Sony) preserves more of the original violin figuration, particularly in the split octaves in the first movement, and bravely maintains the third movement at pitch, although elsewhere the cello part is generally played in a lower register. Anssi Karttunen plays safe here taking the third movement down an octave, which makes it less stratospheric, and inevitably less brilliant.

I suspect the ideal transcription offers a judicious mix between the two alternatives. But the point is that the sonata sounds very effective in both versions, Kartunnen and Hakkila having the measure of Fauré’s quicksilver style, revelling in the side-slipping harmonies and understated melodies, and proving to be particularly eloquent in the Andante. To accompany this mighty work, they include some attractive salon-style pieces, the Romance sounding especially evocative, whilst the tricky Papillon is served here with brilliant élan.

The ambient recording also unveils the almost unknown Sonata of Henri Duparc – an at-times inspired composer of too few works. Sadly I think this early effort hardly deserves resurrecting, its last movement being chronically predictable and four-square. Elsewhere there are some nicer Schumannesque moments, but although these highly accomplished artists do nothing less than serve the music to its best advantage, it would be idle to pretend that this is a great find. 

Joanne Talbot