Alain Jacquon / Aleksandr Khramouchin / Philippe Koch

Jean Cras: Sonate pour violoncello & piano; Trio pour violon, violoncelle & piano

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Jean Cras is a little known composer of the early twentieth century who is finding something of a niche among performers and recording artists a century later. This disc of chamber music featuring the cello is just one of several dedicated to his music released on the Timpani label alone, while other labels also issued several discs in the early 2000s with Cras' music on them. He was a composer with little formal training who wrote as an avocation while serving on board ships as a French naval officer. He found a mentor in Henri Duparc, who had him study the music of the Austro-Germanic greats from Bach to Schumann and of Franck. Cras' music reflects the formality of those earlier composers combined with the harmonies and colors of the late Romantic-early Modern French school. Given his career, it is also very hard not to read the sound of rolling waves into much of his music, especially in these chamber works, where the cello and violin are given flowing, long, lyrical lines over a more usually rippling or pulsing piano part. The Cello Sonata, from 1900, opens with a very dramatic theme that makes one think of being plunged into an active sea, followed by a second, calmer theme that could represent more control over the situation. The Adagio movement is meditative and almost hymnlike at times, perhaps a reflection of Cras' faith that's often also found in his music. The Largo at the end of the program is in a similar vein, as is the Trio's second movement. The sonata's finale is again dramatic and energetic. The whole sonata uses the full range of the cello in a way that is formally constructed, but heroic and majestic in attitude. The Trio is a slightly later work than the sonata, but similarly proud, lyrical, and structured, although the last two movements are sunny and playful as well. The meters used in each movement are a mixture of odd and even, sounding measured and unmeasured by turns and adding interest for those looking to get more out of the music than just the surface character generated by melodies that aren't quite hum-able. The three musicians here, Philippe Koch, Aleksandr Khramouchin, and Alain Jacquon, ably perform Cras' music with energy and care and don't overdo its more theatrical moments, but instead present a solid case for Cras. His music may not be as immediately engaging as the chamber music of Franck or Debussy or Ravel, but it does have its merits.

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