An exceptional YCA recital by French cellist Edgar Moreau

A French cellist performs at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. Uniquely sensitive, soloist Edgar Moreau’s eclectic recital delights area concert goers.

French cellist Edgar Moreau. (Photo credit: Matt Dine, courtesy YCA)

WASHINGTON, February 28, 2017 – Exiled this season from its usual home at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, which is currently undergoing ACA and additional renovations, the Young Concert Artists series returned to the Embassy of France in Georgetown, D.C. last week to present an impressive, almost magical recital by the sensitive young French cellist Edgar Moreau.

Accompanied by pianist Jessica Osborne, Mr. Moreau performed a wide ranging selection of works by Beethoven, Poulenc, Brahms, and contemporary French composer Éric Tanguy.

Born in Paris in 1994, Mr. Moreau began his musical studies quite early, beginning with the cello when he was only four and playing the piano just two years later. He eventually studied his art at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris and is continuing his studies at Germany’s Kronberg Academy.

Mr. Moreau launched his February 23 Washington recital with a fine performance of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 2 in G-minor, Op. 5, No. 2. A vigorous, challenging but infrequently-heard work dating from the composer’s early years, the sonata is notable not only for its slightly odd structure (an extended initial movement that effectively serves as two) but for its vigorous piano part as well, which was crisply performed by Ms. Osborne.

For his part, Mr. Moreau exhibited his mastery of this eminently accessible work, which still carries within clear echoes of the late classical period, while at the same time giving us a glimpse into a still-evolving young composer. Even in this early work, we can sense a young Beethoven is already enlarging his musical palette, envisioning a bolder and very different Romantic approach to his compositions that stretches but does not entirely break with earlier tradition.

Next on Mr. Moreau’s program was the infrequently heard (in this country at least) Sonata for Cello and Piano by the quintessentially Parisian 20th century French composer Francis Poulenc. As we noted in our recent review of another YCA recitalist, baritone Samuel Hasselhorn, Poulenc’s music is clearly “modern, accessible, but notable for its occasionally acidic harmonies.”

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This Poulenc sonata contains those elements and something more. Initially undertaken in 1940 but not completed until 1948, the cello sonata is also colored by some of the darker, more introspective music that characterized the composer’s post-World War II approach.

Some critics regard this work as pleasant yet ephemeral. But this casual critique misses the mark as music criticism so often does when evaluating Poulenc’s compositions.

French composer Francis Poulenc at the keyboard. (Screen capture from YouTube video)

Each of this sonata’s four movements unfolds like a carefully etched musical painting, each part of a series of tableaux that evoke wide-ranging moods and sensibilities. These range from the first movement’s freewheeling “Tempo di marcia” (march tempo) through the second movement’s lovely “Cavatine,” the dance-like “Balabile” and the broadly vigorous Finale.

Mr. Moreau’s alternately charming and exciting interpretation of this wide-ranging virtuoso composition clearly indicated his enthusiasm for the composer’s musical style. His performance also confirmed his mastery of this work’s stylistic variations and challenges, including the composer’s wide-ranging moods ranging from broadly Romantic phrases, to crisp, taut intervals and occasional unexpected “special effects.” In many ways, this accessible yet gripping sonata was the highlight of Mr. Moreau’s program.

The program’s second half launched with the U.S. premiere of “Spirales” (literally “Spirals”) by contemporary French composer Éric Tanguy. After nearly a half-century of fearing the music of nearly every contemporary composer, younger composers, regardless of nationality, seem to be making things easier for classical audiences these days by returning, often in new and different ways, to once-conventional tonal compositions.

In this work at least, Mr. Tanguy is no exception to this new compositional rule of thumb. “Spirales” is clearly modern in approach and style. It lacks a recognizable “tune,” but employs some minimalistic techniques to demonstrate what it is: a series of musical “spirals.” The cello moves up and down the scale, expressing these dizzying motions by means of sinuous, repetitive patterns, embodying endless motion. The patterns vary while the central motif largely remains the same.

“Spirales” was clearly designed as a cello showpiece. It’s difficult to play, but perhaps more difficult to interpret, given its almost mathematical metaphor. But Mr. Moreau has an uncanny knack for unlocking musical secrets, as he clearly did in his performance of the Poulenc Sonata. In this shorter, more compact work, Mr. Moreau’s interpretation deftly explored both the architecture of the composer’s music while also expressing the contemporary turbulence that serves as his underlying metaphor.

Mr. Moreau’s program concluded with a spirited performance of Brahms’ Sonata No. 1 in C-minor, Op. 38. Less heavy than some of the composer’s later sonatas for any number of instruments, this work still makes many demands on the cello soloist and on the accompanist as well.

Both Mr. Moreau and Ms. Osborne tackled this music with energy and grace. Mr. Moreau’s exquisite interpretation of Brahms’ many moods and his mastery of this work’s technical difficulties proved at once to be passionate, masterful, yet effortless, as if he’d been experiencing this music all along. His tonal range and expressiveness were superb as well.

An appreciative audience called Mr. Moreau back for an encore, which he soon answered with a brief, moving excerpt from a longer work by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Extra: YCA notes that Mr. Moreau’s “first CD ‘Play,’ a collection of short pieces, is available on Warner Classics label.”

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