Plenty to admire here, with Poulenc’s underrated sonata stealing the show

Bruno Philippe: Fauré, Franck, Poulenc, Saint-Saëns

The Strad Issue: January 2024

Description: Plenty to admire here, with Poulenc’s underrated sonata stealing the show

Musicians: Bruno Philippe (cello) Tanguy de Williencourt (piano); Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Christoph Eschenbach

Works: Fauré: Après un rêve; Papillon; Romance. Franck: Violin Sonata (arr. Descartes). Poulenc: Cello Sonata Saint-Saëns: Cello Concerto no.1

Catalogue number: HARMONIA MUNDI HMM 902316

This enterprising and beautifully recorded programme, combining elements of late-Romanticism with Neo-classicism, provides cellist Bruno Philippe with a suitably wide stylistic range. Indeed, his magnetic playing proves to be a triumph, not least because his approach is self-effacing in allowing the music to speak for itself, thereby creating interpretations that are both natural and subtle. His duo partner Tanguy de Williencourt is equally masterful. In the dense textures of the Franck sonata Williencourt deftly controls the timbre, skipping in and out of the textures as soloist and accompanist with quixotic speed. The duo is particularly impressive in navigating the turbulent ebb and flow of the second movement of the Franck.

Fauré’s salon pieces are exquisitely performed with elegance and sensitivity and a real understanding of his modal melodic invention and side-slipping harmonies. Philippe’s interpretation of Saint-Saëns’s First Cello Concerto revels in its underlying Classical restraint, while offering sufficiently theatrical playing in the bravura passages; the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra under Eschenbach combines wonderfully precise and expressive playing.

Even more alluring, however, is Poulenc’s Cello Sonata. This underplayed work is exceedingly difficult to make rhythmically neat and expressive – needing performers who are alert to its rapidly changing moods and virtuosic demands. Both artists ensure that every bar sounds amazingly fresh and spontaneous.

Joanne Talbot