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Queyras and Tharaud Together Again

available at Amazon
Debussy / Poulenc, Sonatas, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Alexandre Tharaud

(released October 14, 2008)
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902012

Online scores:
Debussy -- Cello sonata, La plus que lente
Two leading performers of the young generation of French classical musicians, cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras and pianist Alexandre Tharaud, will be playing in Washington in the coming week. In nearly back-to-back concerts at La Maison Française, Tharaud will revisit his latest recording, the Chopin preludes, and Queyras will play with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. Their collaboration on disc continues with this new oh-so-French release, combining the cello sonatas of Debussy and Poulenc, with a few rich viennoiseries off the dessert cart. Most of Tharaud's recordings make a point of combining old and new, and the program of this CD makes reference to the nationalistic embrace by many French composers of historical French music. In a sense, Tharaud has followed in their wake, by releasing knock-out recordings of Couperin and Rameau, and acknowledging how the historically informed performance movement influenced his career.

Few listeners these days would likely need to be convinced of the recording's main premise, that Debussy's music has more in common with Poulenc's than different. Both performers have shown their commitment to more recent music, too, and Tharaud's worthy recording of Ravel's complete piano works shows that he is more than familiar with music of the early 20th century. (In his recital at La Maison Française on Friday, he will combine the Chopin preludes with Ravel's Miroirs.) The two big sonatas are fairly known quantities, and Queyras and Tharaud play them with a Frenchness that is both self-aware and unapologetic. The Debussy has the right combination of gauzy lightness, Queyras's tone often slipping behind pastel veils, and Spartan, hard-glazed austerity. The Poulenc is more acerbic in some ways, a little more vulgar in its embrace of the music of the boulevards.

The story of the disc is in the little pieces that surround the sonatas, including most notably Poulenc's Suite Française, which was conceived originally as incidental music played by a chamber ensemble for the play La reine Margot. Nadia Boulanger, who so often helped other composers by connecting them to music of the past, suggested that Poulenc use some 16th-century dance music by Claude Gervaise as a starting point. Poulenc arranged the work in a number of different versions, including this one for cello and piano, another way that Queyras and Tharaud join the new to the old. The menu of amuse-gueules that might serve as sparkly little encores includes Poulenc's heavy-footed D minor bagatelle and a smoky arrangement of the intentionally smarmy waltz known as La plus que lente.


In concerts at La Maison Française, Alexandre Tharaud will play the Chopin op. 28 preludes and Ravel's Miroirs this Friday (October 24, 7:30 pm) and Jean-Guihen Queyras will play with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia next Tuesday (October 28, 7:30 pm).

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