Emmanuelle Bertrand (cello) and Pascal Amoyel (piano) at St Ann’s, Dawson Street on 22 March 2017
Trudging up the construction site that Dawson St has become, on a cold, stormy night, is not the most promising way to begin any evening. It may have been too much for some—we’ve certainly seen bigger audiences in St Ann’s—but, for those who do make it, this is a night to savour. Cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand and pianist Pascal Amoyel are an award-winning chamber duo, their programme is perfectly balanced, and they do not disappoint. From the very start, their rapport is natural and intuitive, and the music they produce has the simplicity and clarity that only comes with long experience.
The short opening pieces by Gabriel Fauré—the traditional arrangement of his song ‘Après un rêve’ and the one-movement Élégie—are all that one could wish for, with the warm, singing line of Bertrand’s cello ably and understatedly accompanied by Amoyel. There are expressive touches, subtle shifts in tempo, and then bolder gestures as well. Bertrand’s final, held note in the Élégie is somehow a world in itself: rich and vibrant, and seemingly endless.
The Saint-Saëns Second Sonata in F major, an extended piece that is both playful and challenging, becomes in their hands a conversation of equals. They engage fully with the different contrasts of tone, from the rugged monumentalism of the opening to the witty interplay of the second movement’s theme and variations. The slow movement brings out a warmth and deeply romantic lyricism in their playing, before the busy and rousing finale gathers fierce momentum to the end.
After the interval, the duo performs a new work by Kevin Volans, For Bob (in memory of musicologist Bob Gilmore), that fits in well with the elegiac strand of the programme. Volans’ concern to achieve a balance between the two instruments, though, curiously results in it being the most restrained piece in the programme. Its distanced approach certainly contrasts with the Première Élégie by Franz Liszt that follows, with its concentrated and heartfelt romanticism.
Bertrand and Amoyel close with Brahms’ Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor, giving a performance that is fluid and compelling from start to finish. The two players perform as one, bringing out every detail of this richly rewarding work, in playing that is by turns exultant, graceful, and vibrantly robust. This is top-class playing, and well worth seeking out. Their tour, courtesy of Music Network, continues across Ireland to 30 March.
Gabriel Fauré: ‘Après un rêve’; Élégie, Op. 24
Camille Saint-Saëns: Second Sonata in F major, Op. 123
Kevin Volans: For Bob
Franz Liszt: Première Élégie, S.130
Johannes Brahms: Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38
Images by Jean-Baptiste Millot