When I was very young, one of my favourite books was a youth novel written by Enid Blyton: The Sea of Adventures. Four children and a British intelligence officer chase weapon smugglers somewhere in Northern Scotland. The Hebrides, the Orkneys. Enid Blyton’s description of the landscape – an archipelago full of sea birds far away from the civilized world – captured my fantasy. Many times I would dream about those islands, wishing to see them for myself, imagining to explore them like Jack, Philipp, Dina, Lucy did, accompanied by the parrot Kiki and their grown-up friend Bill. Endless days of leisure and adventure in the middle of a wonderful natural scenery.
Je suis seul dans la prairie
Assis au bord du ruisseau ;
Déjà la feuille flétrie,
Qu’un flot paresseux charrie,
Jaunit l’écume de l’eau.
A welcoming sound. A welcoming house. Back home where I belong to. The cello’s warm voice invites me in while the strings evoke the tense moments of the past. Does this piece mirror Marie Jaëll’s state of mind while she wrote her Cello Concerto in F major? In 1882, the year she wrote this piece, her husband had died. Does the composer try to find consolation in music? She did. She often sat in the wooden shed her father had built for her when she was young, absorbed by her music, and anyone knocking on the door would have to expect the reply: “Marie is not here, she’s in the realm of music.” An exceptional woman living an exceptional life.
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!