Folstein, Robert L. The Gift-Wrapping! Offenbach Cello Duets Opus 54, No. 1 - 3, Paul Christopher, Milovan Paz. Human Metronome HMP 106-2016, Compact Disc, 70:28 [Review]. The Jacques Offenbach Society Newsletter, No. 77, Sept 2016:18-19.
The publication of this recording marks the climax of a major effort that began in 2004; it is the culmination of a twelve year effort and leaves us with a remarkable legacy.
When Offenbach first arrived in Paris he had to find a way to earn his living. He sang in the synagogue choir and played in various small musical performances; he also had to devote time to his studies at the Conservatory. And, of course, he gave cello lessons. To assist his teaching he wrote several cello duets covering a range of skills, from early first year students to those who were quite advanced. These teaching pieces are distinct from the many cello compositions he wrote to further his early career as a salon performer and cello virtuoso.
The largest set of these duets was published under the title, Cours methodique de duos pour deux violoncelles, Opus 49 - Opus 54. The six sets include 24 separate duets, and the required technique and technical skill level increases with opus number. In addition to their teaching value they contain a wealth of musical inspiration and melodic invention. The fact that they have remained in print testifies to their value as teaching aids, but they are only rarely performed at concerts, and even then mainly by students. Many of the duets have been recorded, especially the later opus numbers, but, until now, there has not been a dedicated effort to preserve this music in performance.
And now we have, with this recording, all of these duets performed by Paul Christopher, (cello I, or the "teacher's part") and produced by the same team, Helen and Beecher Wood. The second cello part in these recordings was performed by Ruth Drummond in all but Opus 54. In addition, Paul Christopher is Associate Professor of Music Theory and Low Strings at Northwestern State University of Louisiana. As such, he brings a solid academic understanding of the music to the performances.
The first CD in the series, released in 2004, was The Gift of Melody - Offenbach Cello Duets, Opus 49, #1 - 6, and Opus 50, #1 - 3, Human Metronome HMP-101-2004.The recording was reviewed in Newsletter No. 32, June 2005, which also has a detailed article on the cello duets by Paul Christopher.
The second recording, released in 2005, is The Perfect Gift - Offenbach Cello Duets, Opus 50, #4 - 6, and Opus 51, #1 - 3, Human Metronome HMP-102-2005. It was reviewed in Newsletter No. 34, December 2005. [As an aside, Newsletter No. 42, December 2007 includes a related article by Paul Christopher, Offenbach: Reminiscenes a Robert le Diable de Giacomo Meyerbeer pour six violincelli (1852).]
The third recording, released in 2007, is The Master's Gift - Offenbach Cello Duets, Opus 52, #1 - 3 and Reminiscences a Robert le Diable, Human Metronome HMP-103-2007. Paul and Ruth Drummond play all six parts of the ensemble. The review was in Newsletter No. 43, March 2008.
The fourth, released in 2009, The Artist's Gift, Cello Duets, Opus 21 & Cello Solos, HMP-104-2009. This disc represents a slight diverson from their goal of completing the Cours methodique. It does give us the first - and, as far as I know, only - recording of Trois Duos Concertants, Opus 21, #1 in A Minor, #2 in F Major, and #3 in B flat Major. As usual, the duets are played with Ruth Drummond and Christopher plays the ten solos making up Melodies de Anna Bolena di Donizetti pur violoncello solo. The recording was reviewed in Newsletter No. 52, June 2010.
The fifth recording, released in 2012, brings us back to the original plan: The Present - Offenbach Cello Duets, Opus 53, #1 - 3, HMP 105-2012. It was reviewed in Newsletter No. 63, March 2013. The same issue also has an article, Offenbach's Twelve Etudes for Two Violoncelli, Opus 78 (1853) by Paul Christopher and Brett Andrews.
And this brings us to the latest recording which completes this long-term commitment to Cours methodique. In this recording Paul is joined by one of his students, Milovan Paz. Milovan graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree in Performance in May 2014 and a Master of Music degree in Performance in May 2016. This is the perfect climax to the effort: the most complex duets played by the professor and one of his advanced students exactly as Offenbach had intended. Their playing is superb, carefully nuanced and capture the essence of the music.
The three duets are marvelous concert pieces in their own right and reveal a composer with skills and insights not normally associated with Offenbach. He is well-known as a cello virtuoso and wrote a solid body of work for his concert and solo performances. A few of them - such as Les Larmes de Jacqueline - remain popular in the current repertoire. Unfortunately, the duets have never become established in the concert repertoire and are largely unknown.
Now that we have the complete Cours methodique available in recordings by the same featured performer, there is a reasonable chance that this will all change. Certainly cellists - professionals and students - will get their own copies, even if only out of curiosity. But they are sure to be captivated by the music and performances, and this should lead them to obtain the scores and begin performing them at their own concerts. And that would, of course, make them available to the audiences. We have had a renaissance in Offenbach's vocal works, now, perhaps, we will have one for his instrumental compositions.
Folstein, Robert L. Lagniappe: Ecole du violoncelle pour deux violoncelles, Opus 19 and 20. Paul Christopher, Milovan Paz, cellists. Human Metronome HMP 107-2016, 65:59 Compact Disc [Review]. The Jacques Offenbach Society Newsletter, No. 80, Jun 2017: 13-14.
This compact disc of six cello duets is the seventh in the series of such recordings begun by Paul Christopher and producer Helen Wood and her Human Metronome label. The first recording, opus 49 and 50, was released in 2004. This long-term commitment to these elegant, but almost unknown, compositions has now given us virtually all of them in excellent recordings.
This set of duets was written by Offenbach in 1839, when he was just twenty years old. There are three in the group, opus 21 has already been released on The Artist's Gift, Human Metronome HMP 104-2009, performed with Paul and Ruth Drummond, as are the other earlier recordings of these works. At this time, Offenbach had not yet established himself as a virtuoso even though he had written several works for the instrument and had appeared in a good number of concerts. It was in this year that he met the composer Friedrich von Flotow, best remembered as the composer of Martha, Flotow was already well established as a performer in the salons of Paris, and introduced Offenbach to that venue. They even collaborated together on several duets for cello and piano. Offenbach's success as a salon musician led to his eventual accomplishments and opened doors to him that might have otherwise remained closed.
These duets, as with the later ones, present the contents in progressively more difficult works, usually with three movements. These earlier works vary from the three movement style with some having only one or two. The informative six-page insert includes a table with details of the progression in difficulty in going from opus 19 to 21.
All of this music was new to me, so it was a special delight to listen to the recording. The duets were written as teaching aids and Offenbach used them with his own students. As noted, Offenbach was only twenty when he wrote them, well before he had the experiences that led to the development of his writing style. But the duets all have that distinct melodic line for which he is so well-known. One hears, especially in the earlier duets, some amazing musical effects that are achieved through the simplest of means, such as volume level variations, the insertion of suprising rests, and unexpectedly moving the main melodic line from one performer to the other. Although intended as teaching aids, these duets are sophisticated and enjoyable enough to have earned a place in the concert repertoire. Perhaps these recordings will lead to that.
I have already commented on the musicians who perform the duets: Paul Christopher (the teacher, cello 1) and Milovan Paz (the student, cello 2). [See the below review.] It is clear that they have put a great deal of thought into their interpretation of these musical gems, and their playing reflects it. Both men are accomplished cellists and seem, in places, to emphasize a point that Offenbach had intended to make to his students. Their grasp of the music has allowed them to raise these teaching exercises to genuine concert delights, giving us a glimpse into what Offenbach may have accomplished had he chosen to remain an instrumental composer of the French romantic school.
Review written by D. Moore, July/August 2017
American Record Guide, page 135
Offenbach: Cello Duos, opp 19 + 20, Paul Christopher and Milovan Paz HMP 107-2016, 66 minutes
One tends to forget that Jacques Offenbach was not only a composer of operatic works but started out as a cellist. Along the way, he wrote a large amount of music for that instrument, notably nine collections of duos for two cellos, the first four arranged in order of technical difficulty. Opuses 19-21 and 34 each contain three duos: Opus 19 written only as high as second position, Opus 20 climbing as high as fifth position, Opus 21 uses more advanced double-stops, and Opus 34 climbs into thumb position as well - though that opus has not been found yet.
The liner notes inform us that this is the seventh disc of these works made by Human Metronome. It is the first I have heard. The players are from Northwestern State University of Louisiana, Christopher having been Paz's cello teacher. These are warmhearted but rather careful performances. There is a certain didactic atmosphere to these early duos that is reflected in the playing.
That is not a complaint about the interpretations, but Offenbach is writing here in somewhat less outgoing style than the music I normally associate with him. The recorded quality balances the sounds of the two players in somewhat rough fashion but it is clear and strong. Several recordings have been made of the later duos from Opuses 49-54 and 78. That is more exciting music, but I am glad to hear how it all got started. This release is titled Lagniappe, in case you are looking for it on a shelf.
Review written by Jerry Dubins
Fanfare Magazine: The Magazine for Serious Collectors, vol. 40, no. 6, July/August 2017, pages 89-91.
This is my first encounter with the record label Human Metronome, and I must admit that an advert on the back tray card really amused me. It reads in part, “If you like this CD, please let us know (c/o WoodHele@aol.com), and order more! We have 6 other of Offenbach’s quite delightful cello duets….” After listening to the current album, I couldn’t help but wonder: How much delight can one take?
To the extent that we encounter the music of Jacques Offenbach on record today, other than in his many operettas that made him famous, it’s in his considerable number of works for cello. How brilliant a virtuoso he was on the instrument himself I don’t know, but he was certainly accomplished enough to earn a living early on in his career by playing pickup jobs in theaters around Paris, and eventually, in 1835, by landing a permanent position with the orchestra of the Opéra-Comique. It’s a wonder how he managed to hold on to the job, though, for as his biography tells us he was the class cut-up, playing practical jokes on his fellow musicians, such as rigging some of their music stands to collapse mid-performance.
He was a character, for sure, hobnobbing with the elites of Paris, meeting with kings, queens, and princesses, and playing music with Mendelssohn, Liszt, Anton Rubinstein, and Joseph Joachim. Returning to Paris from his travels abroad, he converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism in 1844 in order to marry the love of his life, Hérminie d'Alcain; and unlike the stormy marital relationships of a number of other composers, Offenbach and Hérminie lived relatively happily ever after until death did them part.
Offenbach composed quite extensively for cello, including two concertos, several salon-like pieces for cello and piano, and numerous sets of cello duets, of which the six on this CD are but a fraction. All of the composer’s two-cello duos—I count 48 of them in total which are collected under 11 opus numbers—are pedagogical pieces. Of the 11 opus numbers, at least the first four, opp. 19–21 and 34, are progressive in nature and come under the umbrella of École du violoncelle. Their increasing degrees of difficulty are designated as follows:
Opus Duets Level Difficulty/Challenges
19 3* Premièr degré 1/2-2nd position; minimal double-stops; few tempo changes
20 3* Deuxième degré 1/2-5th positions; two-string double-stops; trills; grace notes
21 3* Troisième degré 1/2-5th positions w/extensions; triple and quadruple double-stops; arpeggios; syncopation; chromatic scales
34 3 Quatrième degré 1/2-thumb positions; extensive double-stopping, rapid scales, high passage work
An additional six opus numbers, opp. 49–54, containing a total of 24 duets, come under the rubric Cours méthodique and seem to be Offenbach’s second, complementary round of progressive studies, designated as follows:
Opus Duets Level Difficulty/Challenges
49 6* Très facile 1/2-1st positions w/extensions; few tempo changes
50 6* Facile 1/2-4th positions w/extensions; two-string double-stops; trills, grace notes
51 3* Moyenne force 1/2-5th positions; moving notes on one string while held note on adjacent string; tempo changes; arpeggios; syncopation
52 3* Brilliants 1/2-6th position; extensive double- and triple-stopping, etc.
53 3* Difficile 1/2-thumb position; plus all of the above
54 3* Très difficile 1/2-thumb position; extensive double-stopping over entire range; rapid scales, large jumps, octaves, extreme high notes
Finally, collected under the single op. 78, there are 12 Études which, I’m guessing, are intended for those cello students who have mastered all of the previous studies.
On the present disc, Christopher and Paz give us the six duets—three each—comprising the opp. 19 and 20 sets of the École du violoncelle group. As one listens to these pieces, it’s easy to put aside their pedagogical, utilitarian purpose, for it’s as if Offenbach was incapable of turning out an exercise that wasn’t a tender, touching, and charming duet, in this case, for tenor and baritone voices. Whether Offenbach intended these pieces exclusively for the active participants, or he imagined the possibility of a passive listening audience, I can’t say. Clearly these duets must be very rewarding for cellists to play, but I can say that they are also quite attractive and thoroughly enjoyable to hear.
Previous volumes in the series are as follows, and everything thus far released is asterisked above:
(1) “The Gift of Melody.” Opp. 49/1–6 and 50/1–3.
(2) “The Perfect Gift.” Opp. 50/4–6 and 51/1–3.
(3) “The Master’s Gift.” Op. 52/1–3 and Reminiscences à Robert le Diable.
(4) “The Artist’s Gift.” Op. 21/1–3 and Cello Solos.
(5) “The Present.” Op. 53/1–3.
(6) “Gift Wrappings.” Op. 54/1–3.
The current Volume 7 bears an album title of Lagniappe! and contains opp. 19/1–3 and 20/1–3. By my calculations, still to come are the Three Duets of op. 34 and the 12 Études of op. 78. I wouldn’t expect them anytime soon, however, because according to the album note coauthored by Paul Christopher and Helen Wood, not all of the op. 34 pieces have been located.
Paul Christopher is associate professor of music theory and low strings at Northwestern State University of Louisiana. He has soloed with orchestras, appeared in recital, and presented at conferences throughout much of the southern and southeastern states, as well as in Central America and South Korea. For this recording, he plays the Cello I parts on a 1994 Moes & Moes cello from Stamford, Connecticut, and the album note informs us that he is heard throughout in the right channel.
Milovan Paz is a native of Honduras who took his Bachelor’s degree under the tutelage of Paul Christopher at Northwestern State U. Paz plays the Cello II parts on a 2015 Calin Waltur cello from Romania, and he is heard throughout in the left channel.
My only comment on the recording is that it’s captured just a bit up too close for my personal taste, picking up the gruffer, grittier bow-to-string contact sounds. Other than that, the recording is well balanced and Christopher and Paz are well matched. This can be recommended to all appreciative musical generalists, but especially to anyone who happens to play the cello or is just a cello enthusiast. Considering the point and purpose of these duets, the music is surprisingly engaging, and it’s smartly played by Christopher and Paz.
Review written by Colin Clark, July/August 2017
Fanfare: The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors, vol. 40, No. 6, page 88-89.
Offenbach Cello Duets: in C, op. 19/1; in G, op. 19/2; in D, op. 19/3; in C, op. 20/1; in G, op. 20/2; in D, op. 20/3.
Paul Christopher (vc); Milovan Paz (vc); HUMAN METRONOME 107-2016 (65:59). Available from CDBaby.com, paulchristophercello.com, or www.HumanMetronome.com.
The enthusiasm of all concerned with this project shine through the playing of these two excellent cellists, Paul Christopher and his one-time pupil Milovan Paz.
There are a total of six cello duets on this disc. The first, in C Major, is one of the two-movement pieces, its opening Allegro moderato a joyous yet eloquent celebration of chamber music at its finest; a conversation between two cellos in which there is a palpable joy in phrasing musically. While still relatively early on the difficulty scale it is a strong piece, with the finale tripping away merrily. Contrasts are fully honored, with real hush to the pianissimos and strength to the fortes.
The G Major, op. 19/2, opens with a movement of intense concentration and Bach-like purity in its counterpoint. The sense of conversation between the two players here is delightful to experience. The central movement is a gallant Andantino, the epitome of civility; the finale is a dance-like Minuetto. In some ways op. 19/3 in D Major is the most fascinating of the disc. Cast in one movement, a Largo with quasi-orchestral gestures of implied tutti against solo leading towards a theme with three variations. This piece feels like Offenbach is spreading his wings somewhat: Within six minutes, he seems to traverse whole worlds. The shifts in perspective are superbly managed by Christopher and Paz.
The three duets of op. 20 move up a notch in technical terms, extending to the fifth position with extensions and introducing two-fingered double stopped chords. Melodic lines tend to be more ornate than in op. 19. The key scheme (C Major; G Major; D Major) is the same as op. 19. There is a lovely sense of expansiveness to the first movement of op. 20/1; indeed, the music seems to take time to investigate where its material can take it, and there is a definite sense of reflection, even reorientation, at one point as the music becomes interior and thoughtful. The simplicity of the theme of the central Andantino (cast, perhaps surprisingly, in D Major) is remarkable, as it possesses real power. Its unfolding explores that very potency; it is left to the Rondo finale, a jaunty, carefree dance given with evident glee by the players, to banish the cobwebs.
At over eight minutes, the first movement of op. 20/2 is one of the longest on the disc. The music carries grater pathos, too; the desolation of the pizzicato of the slow movement (the only "true" slow movement on this disc, a Lento) acts as a prolongation of mood. Again, phrases seem to blossom naturally, this time speaking with an emotional ache. Even the finale cannot completely dismiss the previous two movements' concerns. A remarkable, and emotionally compelling work. Again, the D Major op. 20/3 holds an extended first movement, part of the music's expansion through the ascending opus numbers. Caressing melodies could almost be from an operatic entrr'acte (such is their intensity this is not an unrealistic parallel); the suave, sophisticated finale is the perfect way to close the disc.
The standard of performance is consistently of the very highest level. Worries about tuning, especially in the cello's upper register, can be jettisoned; it is more a case of sitting back and enjoying. The recording is dry, but this actually works remarkably well in this repertoire, where purity of line is paramount. As mentioned above, the cellists have a speaker each. Documentation is helpful and shot through with the same enthusiasm that defines the performances themselves. it is worth pointing out that it is a joy to actually hear this disc played straight through; perhaps contrary to expectations, one decidedly does not tire of either the sound of two cellos, nor of Offenbach's exquisite outpourings.
Review written by Jerry Dubins, November/December 2017
Fanfare: The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors, vol. 41, no. 2, page 48-49.
Titled The Gift-Wrapping, this album, if I may be permitted a cheap pun, was intended to wrap up Paul Christopher and Milovan Paz's survey of Offenbach's some 48 Cello Duos, spread over 10 opus numbers of progressive technical difficulty. That is, until the two cellists decided to backtrack to the earliest and easiest six duets published as opp. 19 and 20. It was that album, Volume 7, titled Lagniappe, ostensibly recorded after this one, labeled Volume 6, which was presumed to be the last in the series, that was reviewed by me in 40:6. Colin Clarke interviewed Christopher and Paz and reviewed the Lagniappe disc in the same issue.
As noted above, the CD before us, Volume 6, was to have been the final entry in this project -- the "wrapping of the gift" in the title of the album tells us as much -- until Christopher and Paz added a bow to it with a seventh volume. This release contains the last of the duos, the three entries collected under op. 54, which are designated "Tres difficile." The technical difficulties include 1/2-thumb position with extensions, extensive double- and triple-stopping over the entire range of positions, tempo changes, trills, grace notes, rapid scale work, large jumps in pitch, arpeggios, octaves, and extremely high tesitura.
If all of this sounds like little more than pedagogical preparation for conservatory exams, let me repeat what I said in my previous interview: "Offenbach was incapable of turning out an exercise that wasn't a tender, touching, and charming duet, in this case, for tenor and baritone voices. Whether Offenbach intended these pieces exclusively for the active participants, or he imagined the possibility of a passive listening audience, I can't say. Clearly these duets must be very rewarding for cellists to play, but I can say that they are also quite attractive and thoroughly enjoyable to hear. Keep in mind that as the spin-meister of catchy tunes for over 100 operettas and operettes, Offenbach never exhausted his seemingly endless supply of melodic charm; and whatever pedagogical purpose his cello duos may have served, Offenbach endowed them with the same gift of melody he brought to his stage works, proving that technical exercises can be beautiful music.
I'd be less than honest if I didn't report that occasionally I do hear a bit of strain on the part of the players, which manifests itself most notably in slightly off-center pitches on the very highest notes of the fingerboard. That only attests, however, to the extreme difficulty of these pieces, which explore the technical limits of the cello of Offenbach's day, and which may exceed in difficulty most of what had been written for the instrument up to the time that celebrated cello virtuosos such as Carlo Alfredo Piatti, Carl Davydov, and David Popper came on the scene.
If you purchased and enjoyed Lagniappe, Volume 7 in this series, you are bound to take even greater pleasure in these much more advanced and challenging works, which Paul Christopher and Milovan Paz face boldly and courageously, and conquer successfully. Recommended.
Review written by Maria Nockin, November/December 2017
Fanfare: The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors, vol. 41, no. 2, page 46, 48.
Although today Jacques Offenbach is generally regarded as an opera and operetta composer, he began his career as a virtuoso cellist. As a young man, he wrote a Cours Methodique de duos pour deux violoncelles (Duo Teaching Method for Two Cellos) for the cello, which Paul Christopher and his student Milovan Paz present on six discs from Human Metronome. This review concerns CD number six, which contains the Three Duets of opus 54. The course work of opus 49 was relatively easy, but progressed over the intervening discs to opus 54's double- and triple-stops, grace notes, arpeggios, octaves, rapid scale work, large jumps in pitch, and very high tessitura. Offenbach referred to opus 54 as "Tres difficile." The first duo on this disc is in G Minor and the other two are in E Major. Each duo begins with a long first movement that lasts 13 to 16 minutes. The movements that follow are considerably shorter. Offenbach wrote these Duos and many other works for cello before 1855, when he opened his own theater, the Bouffes-Parisiens, and became a theater manager as well as composer and performer.
The G-Minor Duo is rather lean and does not seem to have much of a relationship to the Offenbach compositions with which we are most familiar such as the Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffman or the famous "Infernal Galop" from Orpheus in the Underworld, more commonly known as the "Can-Can." There are some singable melodies, however, and the Adagio religioso has some interesting close harmony. This composer always remembered to give the student some passages to repeat for technical improvement, but they are always pleasant and never grate on the ear. The Second Duo is a viable chamber piece with two rather difficult parts that result in music that might be used to accompany a garden party or an informal wedding. It has a lovely aria in which the student as well as the teacher is expected to make the cello sing. The Andante which follows might be a bit slow for a party, but the finale is an exuberant Polonaise that could easily evoke a wealth of both melodic and rhythmic interest. The Third Duo of opus 54 is in E Major and has only two movements. The first is marked Adagio, but it morphs into majestic Allegro maestoso during its 16 minutes playing time and allows the players to produce some lovely tone quality on the instrument's lower notes. The disc ends with an Allegro vivo that can get the dullest toes to start tapping.
Paul Christopher, associate professor of music theory and low strings at Northwestern State University of Louisiana, plays with consummate virtuosity. His student is Milovan Paz, who received his Master's Degree from Northwestern in 2016. It's not easy to tell which player is the student, but I think I figured it out on some of the highest notes. In any case, both cellists play with great skill and I enjoyed listening to this disc. If you play cello either as a teacher or a student, you might want to compare your own ability to the teacher and student who made this disc. I'm going to play it at my next barbecue.
Written by Henry Fogel, November/December 2017
Fanfare: The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors, vol. 41, no. 2, page 46.
If you insist that all music you consume be intellectually rigorous and/or challenging, this is probably not for you. Jacques Offenbach's Duos for Cellos are mainly about entertainment, and to some extent about challenging the performers. Offenbach himself was a virtuoso cellist, and in the early 1850s he wrote huge sets of Cello Duos, called Dours methodique de duos pour deux violoncelles, labeled opus 49-54. Each opus number contains a varying number of pieces, and in each set the degree of difficulty varies. The Human Metronome company completes, with this disc, its recording of the entire Cours methodique, but this is the first time that I have heard. Each opus number has its own title, and this, presumably because it is the last, is entitled The Gift-Wrapping.
The performances are terrific. The playing is in tune, the ensemble is excellent between the two, and most importantly they sound as if they are having fun with the music. It is touching that Paul Christopher is a cello instructor at Northwestern State University of Louisiana and Milovan Paz is his student (and has been as both an undergraduate and graduate). Their keen musical connections is apparent in the way they match colors, dynamic shadings, and phrase inflections.
As the last opus number in the series, you might expect these to be the most difficult, and while I cannot say that with certainty because I am not a cellist, it is clear that these present formidable techincal as well as interpretive challenges (particularly the opening movements of each). These performers must hod our interest for 15 minutes and give the music a sense of going somewhere. Christopher and Paz manage to balance moment-to-moment excitement and even theatricality with an underlying understanding of architecture. In the dance movements they bring a genuine rhythmic spring to their playing.
Very natural recorded sound and perfect balance between the two instruments, along with thorough and helpful notes, round out this very enjoyable production.
Written by Colin Clarke, November/December 2017
Fanfare: The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors, vol. 41, no. 2, page 44, 46.
Offenbach Cello Duets, op. 54, Paul Christopher, Milovan Paz (vc), HUMAN METRONOME 106-2016 (70:28)
Available directly from the artists (c/o WoodHele@aol.com), or via CDBaby, Amazon, HumanMetronome.com, or paulchristophercello.com
Here we move on to another in Paul Christopher's and Milovan Paz's fine series of Offenbach cello duets. The three Cello Duets that comprise Offenbach's op.54 take up over 70 minutes, which should give some indication of scale. We are most definitely in the "tres difficiles" territory within Offenbach's cello output: "formidably difficult," as Paul Christopher's and Helen Wood's liner notes put it. But one should note that that difficulty diminishes not one jot the charm of this music. In fact, it is the interlacing of those two elements -- technical challenge with eminently approachable, melodic music presented in (at least as far as the first movements are concerned) large musical structures-- that confirms Offenbach's genius in his Cours Methodiques.
The G-Minor Duo, op. 54/1, has a significant indicator: Allegro non troppo. Christopher and Paz realize that this is music that needs to unfold naturally, and one assumes that space created by the "non troppo" actually creates problems rather tan alleviates them, putting the spotlight on those cripplingly high-placed passages. The recording is laudably clear and uses a low amount of reverb, which puts everything under a spotlight: All credit, then, to Christopher and Paz for vanquishing the challenges with such aplomb. There is a real sense of triumph when the recapitulation arrives in the first movement of op. 54/1. The sense of hymnody of the central Adagio religioso gives the sense of arrival at a place of refuge. The players intriguingly highlight Offenbach's careful use of silence between phrases in this movement, leaving those spaces charged with feeling. The rondo finale has a beautiful sense of gentle rhythmic swing but again includes cripplingly high passages complete with much double-stopping. Christopher and Paz shape this movement beautifully, too: Note how the reappearance of the theme at three minutes in is exquisitely prepared, and furnishes yet another example of how the music flows through a silence. It all falls perfectly into place.
Next, the E-Major Duo, op. 54/2, boasts a particularly charming theme of decidedly vocal bent that, after drooping most seductively at the close of its phrases, blossoms out as if the melody is quite literally unstoppable. Offenbach, like Schubert, seems to have an inexhaustible spring of melody from which to draw. The interiorization of that sense of melody in the central Andante, as if moving frm operatic expression to that of Lieder, is impeccably managed here, as is the sense of true legato from both cellists. There's no missing the dance element in this Duo, with its refreshing Polonaise finale.
Finally there comes op. 54/3, also in E-Major. The nearly 17 minute first movement has a real sense of the ruminative at times; there is a particularly carefree aspect to the long, high primo melody with pizzicato accompaniment from the secondo. The busy finaly, an Allegro vivo, finds Paz in fine, agile form for the secondo lines.
The competition is discussed within my earlier interview, but it is worth restating that in just about all respects Christopher and Paz are superior to Pidoux and Peclard on Harmonia Mundi (who present Nos. 1 and 2 on HMA1901043).
This disc signifies the completion of Human Metronome's project to record the entire Cours Methoodiques; the discs in between the first and the last await our consideration in the future, however. The bow ties sported by the two cellist on the disc cover represent the "wrap" of the sequence of discs.