Emmanuel Boulanger

Emmanuel Boulanger plays Cassadò, Delplace & Kodály

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As do many cellists who are newcomers to the recording industry, Emmanuel Boulanger presents a variety of solo works. While the performance is certainly acceptable, it fails at times to deliver the necessary vitality and brazenness required for these energetic pieces. The recording quality is very heavy on reverb, much like the aesthetic preferred on the Nimbus label. While the intent here may have been to give a fuller sound to the solo instrument, it was more successful in de-clawing the rhythmic dance qualities of the music. Boulanger's technique, while typically solid, is sometimes marred by surprising and disturbing bouts of poor intonation and a degree of hesitancy in his execution.

The Cassadò Suite for solo cello, composed by a student of the great Spanish cellist Pablo Casals, greatly parallels the form of the Bach solo suites -- in this case, three dance movements with a distinctive Spanish flare. The first and second movements are quite successful. Boulanger puts forth a flowing Fantasia with some very satisfying dynamic contrasts, followed immediately by a steady, danceable Sardana in the second movement. This contrasts with the Finale, whose tempi frequently and unnecessarily fluctuate. Boulanger also attempts to force more sound from his instrument than it is capable of delivering, resulting in the occasional absence of sonority as the strings are choked.

The Deplace Variations -- composed with the assistance of Boulanger, who also premiered the work -- seems to be the piece with which the performer is most comfortable. It begins with a beautifully executed sarabande as its theme, followed by four contrasting variations. Boulanger provides the listener with the anticipation and excitement necessary for a newer work such as this to share a program with Cassadò and Kodály.

The Kodály Sonata for solo cello sits atop an ivory tower as one of the most celebrated pieces in this solo repertoire. While the successful execution of this extremely difficult piece should remind the listener of rhythmically intense and suave Hungarian folk music, less successful performances are generally reticent of etudes. Sadly, this recording represents the latter. It is fraught with jarring, lengthy pauses during which the performer searches for chords. This may be more acceptable if these chords were then in tune once played, but intonation difficulties permeate this selection, making it at times unpleasant to continue listening.

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