A woman’s challenge: Finding a unique voice

Light. © Charles Thibo

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.

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A rhapsody of pain and pleasure

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Balance. ©Charles Thibo

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!

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Doing it her way – with a little help from her friends

Omen? © Charles Thibo

A dark premonition must have been haunting the composer went she sketched this Lento. Or was it the legacy of her teacher, the influence of the late German Romantic masters? Franz Liszt is not very far indeed, for Marie Jaëll stayed with him in Weimar for quite a number of years, and Richard Wagner, well, Richard Wagner was omnipresent at the time. In 1871 Jaëll wrote her Sonata for piano in C major, dedicated to Liszt.

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