The first movement sounds at first like a cry of despair, a confused, agitated mind looking for help, for orientation, for the light at the end of the tunnel. A slow transition to a kind of monologue, a mind wandering into unknown territories, the pizzicato* introduces a phase of consolidation and of consolation. The second movement has the texture of a prayer, a lullaby, a long, drawn-out sigh expressing a certain resignation, a certain peace of mind, albeit on the background of an overall depressed and confused mood. Occasionally gentle, optimistic figured for the violin are pitched against the darkness, but they cannot prevail. The last movement however has a hopeful, playful general mood and finishes on a strident, agitated repetition of the central theme giving the third movement a bitter aftertaste.
A prayer or rather an incantation. Maurice Ravel on a Japan inspired rave? At the turn of the last century many French artists became infatuated with Japan’s traditional art – its painting, its music, its haiku literature. Between 1920 and 1922 Ravel wrote his Sonata for Violin and Cello, M. 73; he dedicated it to Claude Debussy, and I detect at least a hint of the Asian concept of minimalism and purity in this piece. Ravel wrote it in his safe haven “Le Belvédère”, located in Montfort l’Amaury, 50 km south-west of Paris, inspired every day by his Japanese garden.
Gabriel Fauré’s String Quartet in E minor (Op. 121) will forever be associated in my mind with the morning after I had heard Debussy’s quartet. Debussy’s piece had had a deep and lasting impact upon me the day before. I rose in the morning to drive to work, and while I drove by that field in the picture I immersed myself in the first movement of Fauré’s piece. The field, the sun, the sky, the music…
The boundary between pain and pleasure is blurry, and this wonderful cello concerto feels like a balancing act between the abyss of pain and the summit of passion. Camille de Saint-Saëns wrote in 1902 his Cello Concerto No. 2 in D minor (Op. 119). I have two recordings and I can recommend both. The first is by Zuill Bailey and the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, the second by Stephen Isserlis and the NDR Symphony Orchestra. What strikes me is the energy, the power, the tension of the piece maintained over the two movements with virtuosic parts for the cello and beautiful rhapsodic indulgences for the orchestra, first of all for the strings. What a pleasure it must be to perform this piece!