Emmanuelle Bertrand / Pascal Amoyel

Chopin: 1846, dernière année à Nohant

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It's not at all clear that the concept of this release by French cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand and pianist Pascal Amoyel really works. The program covers works written in the year 1846, "the last year at Nohant," the country estate of George Sand where Chopin lived in decaying domestic bliss until they finally went their separate ways the following year. Chopin's music is curiously achronological, and as annotator Nicolas Dufetel notes, a piece like the Waltz for piano in D flat major, Op. 64/1 ("Minute Waltz"), sounds for all the world like the spontaneous creation of a young and endlessly fertile artist. Chopin did seem to turn slightly toward larger forms in his later years, and the dense Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 65, is different from anything else he wrote. Still, it's hard to speak of a late Chopin style (he wasn't planning on dying three years later), or to find traces of his domestic life in this music. Perhaps his declining health can be heard in the two Nocturnes, Op. 62; he was already suffering from the (probable) tuberculosis that would kill him, and shortly after the breakup with Sand, responded to rumors of an affair with a Scottish woman by saying that he was closer to the grave than to the marriage bed. All this said, the performances here are very fine. Bertrand and Amoyel deliver a deceptively laid-back performance of the Cello Sonata that brings out the structure of the first movement, which so puzzled Chopin's contemporaries; the germ of all the material in the opening melody is clearly traced. Amoyel on his own brings a sense of exhaustion to the two nocturnes, but does not try to impose it on music where it doesn't belong. The result is a program that lets listeners imagine its setting even if there's nothing in particular other than chronology holding the music together. Harmonia Mundi's sound at the Teldex studio in Berlin heightens the clarity and intimate atmosphere.

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