Virgin Classics assembled an all-star team of chamber musicians to put together this five-disc set of Gabriel Fauré's complete music for strings and piano. Only the String Quartet, Op. 121, by the Quatuor Ebène, was previously released. Fauré's chamber music - with the exception of a couple of short works for cello and piano - isn't as well known outside of France as that of Debussy and Ravel, although the two piano quartets are widely admired.
Despite the use of period instruments, including some fine blaring natural horns, this couldn't be called a historically informed performance of Handel's Royal Fireworks Music, HWV 351. The work was not composed for a pleasant onboard afternoon musicale like the Water Music, but instead was part of an event that would have been one of the top items on CNN Headline News for 1749: the celebration of the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, brokered by King George II.
The young cellist Andreas Brantelid, often accompanied and perhaps guided by the much older Bengt Forsberg, has gained notice for sheer virtuoso chops. But in this recital covering all of Gabriel Fauré's music for cello and piano, it's his way with a sheer melody that impresses the most: the two Berceuses (cradle song), the flawless unfolding of the two sonata slow movements from simple opening material (sample that of the elegiac Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 117), the remarkable, 54-second Morceau de Lecture (originally for two cellos, and the only arranged work here). Brantelid certainly delivers a smooth performance of the popular Papillon, Op. 77, and all the music here – some of it well known, but most of it not so much – is a pleasure. Fauré was one of the few composers who had a real knack for writing for the cello and did so without complaining about it. The best is saved for last: the Andante for cello and harmonium is the original version of the opening Romance, Op. 69, and it's really an entirely different work, spooky and inward, with the harmonium contributing a unique wash of sound. The harmonium was an extremely common instrument in the second half of the 19th century, and it's good to hear a work played on the instrument for which it was intended. BIS contributes fine Swedish radio sound to this recommended cello recital.
Sousa, the American master of the march, also enjoyed great prestige in the realm of operetta. The suite from The American Maid, set in a glass factory and culminating in scenes based on the 1898 Spanish-American War, was among the first theatrical shows to employ actual film footage. The beautiful quintet from his early operetta The Smugglers was scored for his eminent brass virtuosi. The medley of drinking songs called A Mingling of the Wets and the Drys was composed during Prohibition, while the unusual and previously unrecorded March of the Pan Americans – Part One celebrates the independent nations of North and South America in 1915 with zest and elan.