Harmonia Mundi

Friends and frequent recital partners Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexandre Tharaud are reunited here for an album conceived as a collection of short stories, presenting both celebrated and little-known masterpieces of the repertory. If the art of transcription is the hallmark of great performers, it must be said that our two partners are past masters at it! Throughout this lyrical yet virtuosic programme, music lovers will meet one surprise after another.



What was the genesis of this album?

It all started with the very special impression that the encore generates in the concert space. After the advertised programme, the encore provides a break, a real area of freedom. Everything is open and is invented in a direct relationship with the audience, closer and more spontaneous than before. For those of us on the platform, it’s the moment to choose, from a wide range of genre pieces, the atmosphere that corresponds to that instant: intimacy, profundity, humour . . . extremely concentrated musical worlds representing genuine cores of vitality that invite us to improvise and invent.

This programme contains many transcriptions.

Alexandre and I have an affinity with the libertarian spirit that inspired many soloists at the turn of the twentieth century, people like David Popper, Fritz Kreisler, Jascha Heifetz, Pablo Casals. All these artists appropriated works and remodelled them without qualms, each in their own way. Gregor Piatigorsky, who made his own versions of countless repertory pieces, is an iconic figure of the art of arrangement. The disc opens with his arrangement for cello and piano of the finale of Haydn’s Baryton Trio [Hob. XI:113] – a complete revision of the original work, following a transgressive and highly stimulating approach that we have totally adopted in our own transcriptions. Thus, for Brahms’s Hungarian Dances, we were freely inspired by Joseph Joachim’s edition for violin and piano, which we then substantially reworked it to make it a fully alive version for cello and piano.

What is the role of Dutilleux’s Strophe in the programme?

I started practising this piece at a very early age (long before I joined the Ensemble intercontemporain), to suchan extent that I sometimes have the feeling that it’s part of my DNA. I like to play it as an encore after my concertsand I’m invariably struck by the enthusiasm it arouses. The audience always wants to know what the name ofthe piece is, if I have recorded it and so on. It works wonderfully as an encore because Dutilleux succeeds insuspending time: this universe reminiscent of Calder and lasting just three and a half minutes makes us defygravity and forces open the doors of intimacy. In the context of this album, it marks a point of profound intensity,which offers a counterpoint to lightness, sheer virtuosity. In this resonance field, the lightest works gain in densityand the densest ones suddenly acquire greater clarity.

On that subject, how did you decide on the order of the pieces in this rich and varied programme?

We thought a great deal about how we could generate unity from this diversity and we chose to consider the programme as a collection of short stories; to attempt to create a forced cohesion at all costs seemed rather pointless and artificial to us. On the other hand, though, it is possible to tell a story full of contrasts and sudden twists, paying careful attention to the respective keys and atmospheres, to weave an underlying multicoloured thread from the soaring opening to lyrical, virtuosic abundance, and conclude in serenity with the luminous purity of the slow movement from Haydn’s Symphony no. 13, which sounds like a call to peace.

Why did you choose the title ‘Complices’?

The French word ‘complice’can mean ‘partner’or ‘accomplice’. Here it evokes the bond that exists between artist and audience at the moment of the encores; it also denotes what has motivated Alexandre and me ever since we began travelling the world together around two decades ago! When we come onto the platform, our heart throbs with the urge to include the audience in this complicity. We work together on the masterpieces of the cello and piano repertory, trying to find the ideal phrasing, the right colours, the tempi that fit together best. By the time of the concert, the osmosis must be total.But ‘complices’can also mean that we are ‘accomplices’when we play together. 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. To combine the music of Coltrane with Bach’s Fifth Cello Suite (that monument of purity) is probably also rather transgressive; but this project I initiated with another great accomplice of mine, the saxophonist Raphaël Imbert, was really close to my heart: he allows us to hear another voice, and he borrows something from the poetry of the tightrope walker, driven by the desire ‘constantly to connect things intended to be distant’, as Philippe Petit likes to say.

Interview by CÉCILE COMBESTranslation: Charles Johnston