Victor Julien-Laferrière - Dvořák & Martinů: Cello Concertos - Gramophone

Is it useful to say that a musician has a ‘Gallic’ sound? Listening to the French cellist Victor Julien-Laferrière playing Czech music with an excellent Belgian orchestra under its alert and sympathetic Hungarian music director, I kept finding myself reaching for adjectives that might, I suppose, be associated with traditionally French stylistic attributes. Words like ‘refined’, ‘lucid’, ‘classical’ – qualities that mightn’t necessarily be the first that spring to mind in connection with the Dvořák Concerto. And certainly not if your benchmark is the unbuttoned, heart-on-sleeve passion of a Rostropovich – or, for that matter, the ardent spirit of adventure of Christian Poltéra, in the most notable recent pairing of these two works.

Still, Dvořák contains multitudes, and the combination of Julien-Laferrière’s eloquent, focused tone with transparent orchestral playing is often extremely beautiful. Illuminating, too; there’s an invigorating clarity and crispness to this performance, as well as a sense of poise that places the emotional burden of the work on a deeply poetic account of the slow movement. The coda of the finale is more of a controlled fade-out than a tear-stained parting. Well, why not? The sincerity (as well as sensitivity) of these performers is beyond question.

Julien-Laferrière and Madaras could hardly be more ideally suited to the extraordinary cocktail of ebullience and melancholy that Martinů served up (after repeated revisions) as his First Cello Concerto. For my money, their performance hangs together more persuasively than Poltéra and Dausgaard’s; the rhythmic snap and luminosity of the orchestral playing (particularly in the outer movements) make a vivid setting for Julien-Laferrière’s cool, searching lyricism in the central Andante. It’s bracing, it’s thoughtful, it’s never less than engaging. See what you think.

01 July 2021