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Casting Spells: Encores with Queyras and Tharaud

Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexandre Tharaud
Marco Borggreve
Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexandre Tharaud

Queyras and Tharaud have a new recording that celebrates the magical effect of their spellbinding encores, and WCRB has chosen it as our CD of the Week!

Think back to the last time you sat with a crowd of music-lovers, listening with a full heart to a great musician (I know, I know … don’t worry, it’ll happen again).

There’s a good chance that when the program was over, you and the audience had the overwhelming need to show your love. The clapping and shouting may very well have brought your artist back for a second bow, and with enough urging they gave in and, as a unique and special silence settled over the room, matched the mood with the gift of an encore.

Cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras has a lot of love for those moments, too. He and his friend, pianist Alexandre Tharaud, have been playing together for over twenty years, and their latest recording, Complices, is a collection of pieces they’ve used as encores. The recording’s title can mean “partners,” or, as Queyras points out, “accomplices:”

We must be a little like outlaws in the context of the creative act, in order to push back the limits, break the rules, the better to take flight together! I often think of the fascinating story of the tightrope walker Philippe Petit. How many laws did he have to break to stretch a cable between the two towers of the World Trade Center and give the whole planet something to dream of? His ‘purely artistic crime,’ as he himself calls it, opened up a new space in the imagination.

Queyras and Tharaud have gathered together an incredibly diverse group of pieces – an adventure they see as a series of short stories, beginning and ending with Haydn. Along the way, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Chopin are interspersed with modern geniuses including Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Henri Dutilleux, and John Coltrane.

If you don’t yet know the pure and honest sound that Queyras communicates with through his cello, you’ll be haunted by Manuel de Falla’s “Nana” (track 13). In just two minutes, you’ve heard him in a confessional mood that’s as full of color and mood as the human voice itself. You’ve also gotten a taste of the uncannily kindred spirits these two friends have. You can imagine the collective breath of an audience being held for this one.

You’ll also find famous and often-played favorites like “The Swan” by Saint-Saëns (track 15). What makes this performance so absolutely touching? Beyond the magic of the friendship that gives it its interior glow, it’s a tenderness that melts the phrase endings and doesn’t overdo the arrivals – that honest musicianship that gives you room to hear and love the piece. Listen to the quietude Queyras delivers at the end – a hush that lets Tharaud’s water droplets surprise you, even after all the times you’ve heard this piece.

There’s Poulenc, for tossing back your head and indulging in the nostalgic sentimentality of better days (track 16) and there’s Coltrane improvising on Bach (!) for stretching your improvisatory imagination and bringing you into another world (track 17). You’ll hear waltzes and dances and sounds you may never have encountered before. Queyras’s favorite encore of all is here, too: the first of Henri Dutilleux’s 3 Strophes on the name of Sacher, which the cellist says is “in his DNA” (track 18).

A fantastic collection of musical stories told by two dear friends. Listen for them all week.

Here’s a glimpse at Queyras and Tharaud playing Haydn:

And Kreisler:

To sample tracks and to purchase this recording, visit ArkivMusic.

Cathy Fuller is a Host and Producer for CRB.