Duo à la française
The artists are young – audite’s youngest artists to date. Silvie and Bryan Cheng, sister and brother, were eigtheen and twenty-five years old respectively when this recording was made. She is a pianist, he a cellist, and this CD is their debut recording. They possess what nowadays is taken for granted in internationally performing soloists: perfect mastery of their instruments and the ability to tackle all technical challenges. This is a given with the Canadian duo, who also display an acute, individual and unpretentious sense of style whilst maintaining high standards not only in their performances but also in the design of their programmes. The fresh, youthful approach joins forces with a confident clarity typical of experienced performers.
For their first recording, the duo – who call themselves Cheng2 – present no less than a panorama of French chamber music written between 1870 and 1916. It grew out of two strands of tradition: from the salon culture on the one hand, where brilliant, memorable, artistic and moving pieces were particularly appreciated, and from the activities of chamber music societies on the other hand, who focused mainly on the works of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Amongst the musical elite in Paris, the last composer was regarded as the measure of all things, both in orchestral and in chamber repertoire.
Silvie and Bryan Cheng have recorded sonatas as well as character pieces, thus combining the dominating genres of both musical lines. At the same time, the three major trends characterising French music during its transition from the nineteenth into the twentieth century (and prone to trenchant feuds and polemics) are represented here. Having overcome the painful consequences of a failed Wunderkind career, César Franck distinguished himself as a pioneer of the cyclical form which is developed logically and appears convincingly coherent: he regarded it as continuing Beethoven’s
legacy. Camille Saint-Saëns found these aesthetics too narrow even though he recognisably emulated Robert Schumann in his larger-scale chamber works. Gabriel Fauré was not only his pupil but also became his life-long friend within whose family Saint-Saëns compensated for the breakdown of his own. Like his teacher, Fauré liked to use sonata form following Beethoven’s tradition for more extensive compositions, but as the former, he also cultivated the romantic-poetic genre of the character pieces. Saint-Saëns, whose multiple-movement instrumental works certainly reveal classical traits, ran his own salon which Fauré frequented regularly. The different trends – autonomous, elevated aspirations on one hand, sophisticated entertainment on the other – did not exist in strict isolation from one another in France: rather, the boundaries between them were blurred.