The Strad Issue: January 2011
Musicians: Les Violoncelles Francaises
Composer: Bloch, Casals, Rachmaninoff, Dvorák, Offenbach, Fauré, Schumann, Wagner, Verdi & Tchaikovsky

People usually either love or hate the sound of massed cellos – all that pulsating emotion in every part isn’t for everyone. This disc, with its super-polished sound and elegant performances is about as good an advocate as you are likely to find. It’s hard not to be bowled over by the sheer lushness of the sound as it opens – seven leading French cellists playing their hearts out in Bloch’s Prière, with Xavier Philipps soaring above.

Unlike their Berlin Philharmonic counterparts, these cellists, who first got together in 2006, are not accustomed to playing together as a section, although most are seasoned chamber players. For this their first recording they democratically share out the solo lines in some well-known miniatures, Schumann songs, operatic arias and a string quartet movement in some effective transcriptions, all but one by cellist Roland Pidoux, who performs in the group.

Their piano playing is breathtaking: in the lovely echo in Casals’s own transcription of Song of the Birds you can hardly hear the seven lower cellos, and Emmanuelle Bertrand is able to play with exquisite gentleness in Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. The last few tracks, beginning with a heart-rending performance of Schumann’s Auf einer Burg, take a rather too unrelievedly sombre turn.