The Modern Cello: Leonard Bernstein: [3] Meditations from Mass; Aulis Sallinen: Chamber Music III (The Nocturnal Dances of Don Juanquixote), Op. 58; Paul Hindemith: Trauermusik; Béla Bartók: Rhapsody No. 1, Sz 87; Gioachino Rossini/Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, arr. by Darren Fung: Figaro. I Musici de Montréal, Yuli Turovsky, cello/dir. Chandos 9973, ©2002 (rec. 2001), 61:09, $16.95.

Arthur Honegger: Symphony No. 2, Concerto da Camera, & Prelude, Arioso & Fughetta sur le nom de BACH. I Musici de Montréal, Yuli Turovsky, cond.; with Eleonora Turovsky, violin, James Thompson, trumpet, Timothy Hutchins, flute, & Pierre-Vincent Plante, cor anglais. Chandos 8632, ©1988 (rec. 1986), 51:51, $16.95.

When the strings of I Musici de Montréal paid a visit to the Triangle a while back on the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild’s Masters Series, their conductor left with a couple of CDs for review. One of them was at the time their latest, the 46th recorded for Chandos, and the other an earlier one, their 14th for the label, listed above in that order. It is striking to read the personnel lists in the two booklets and to note how many of those who were with the group, founded in 1984, in its early years are still there. The group has also grown in size, mostly by adding instruments other than strings to their roster, in the intervening years. The same clear, smooth, and precise, often energetic playing for which they are renowned has also remained unchanged.

Perhaps the most interesting piece on the recent CD is The Nocturnal Dances of Don Juanquixote (played second in the lineup) composed in 1985-86; it includes dance rhythms ranging all over the map to include a fox-trot, a tango, a bossa nova, which have the conflated idealist and seducer, represented by the cello, whirling around the floor. It is infectious and pleasant. The Hindemith work, originally composed for viola and strings in 1936 in London in a single six-hour sitting for a substitute radio broadcast necessitated by the cancellation of a concert due to the death of George V, captures the solemnity and somberness of that event, and, perhaps in hindsight, some of the spirit of the times with the Nazi juggernaut hovering in the air. It was published with multiple performance options, including this one and versions with piano accompaniment, all arranged by the composer. The Bernstein, which opens the CD, is not one of his more memorable works; both the original and this adaptation were occasional pieces (1971 and 1977) and are also somewhat somber, even if in a celebratory way since they were for celebratory events, so mating them with the Hindemith is appropriate. The Figaro is an arrangement of an arrangement, and while pleasant, is certainly not a great work; it is a nice filler, not to say fluff, with which to end the listening session, however, and a marked contrast with the opener.

Honegger is unjustifiably neglected these days. He is French-born of French-Swiss parentage, and is always associated with the famous Parisian group of musicians who initially followed, not to say worshipped, Eric Satie, known as Les Six. This is a bit ironic, because he differed with them in philosophy and style, although admittedly they all went their own ways in the latter realm very quickly, and the group was in reality very short-lived as an entity. Honegger was much more serious, less playful, and more classical in the forms and manner in which he set his music. This CD is a nice cross section of his music not involving voice, which many of his other scores do. Curiously, the Prelude… for strings was composed in 1936, like the Hindemith on the above CD. The three-movement Symphony No. 2 for trumpet and strings was commissioned by the Swiss conductor Paul Sacher and composed in Paris in 1941-42 during the Nazi occupation, whose heavy weight is most strongly felt in the slow middle movement. The lighter Concerto da Camera for flute, English horn, and strings that opens the CD was commissioned in 1947 by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge while Honegger was on tour in the USA, soon after WW II. In view of the short total timing, it would have been nice to have included yet another work, although admittedly at the time of its release, the technology had not yet found the way to cram as much onto a single disk as is now done.

Both of these recordings have a great deal to recommend them, especially for aficionados of strings, and they make fine additions to a collection, even if they are not recordings that immediately “blow you away.” As always with Chandos, the recorded sound is outstanding.