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(1886 - 1958)

Paul Bazelaire, as gifted a pianist as he was a cellist, began cello lessons at seven with Clarinval (director of the Philharmonic Company of Sedan). Three years later he went to Jules Delsart at the Paris Conservatoire, where he also won prizes in harmony, composition and counterpoint. Bazelaire himself became an instrumental professor at the Conservatoire and an influential teacher, writing a number of important publications including one concerning the relationship between technical study and musical expression. His Études transcendentales, virtuosic elaborations of mid-nineteenth-century studies by Kummer, demonstrate advancements in cello technique during Bazelaire’s time; he also composed over a hundred pieces, including some for piano solo.

After graduating from the Conservatoire Bazelaire became well known throughout Europe as a soloist. To date very few of his recordings have been commercially reissued, although a new collection of restored 78rpm recordings is due for release and some amateur transfers are published on the internet. Most of his discography is of short encore pieces but he did record some extended chamber music, including the entire Saint-Saëns Cello Sonata No. 1 (1934), excerpts of No. 2, and Schumann’s Op. 110 Piano Trio, as well as a number of examples with his extraordinary ensemble of fifty cellists. Those selected here reveal Bazelaire to be a refined and restrained artist. Unlike many of his generation he employs relatively few portamenti; these are fast and light, whilst his vibrato is tight and discreet. All of this, wedded to his exquisitely accurate intonation, makes his playing notably precise and intense yet at the same time quite subtle. The Saint-Saëns and Schumann selected also reveal some drama and passion. Notice the circumspect first movement of the Saint-Saëns Sonata No. 1 and the deeply felt but curiously ambivalent finale; whilst the opening of the slow movement by pianist Isidor Philipp is unexpectedly dry to modern ears. The Handel-Halvorsen and Chédeville-Bazelaire items (c.1936) reveal the now-outmoded practice of performing Baroque repertoire without reference to period style or, indeed, any differentiation from later repertoire; this is evidenced by the continuous (if tight) vibrato of Bazelaire and Asselin and the long-breathed legato phrasing, no less than the readiness to re-arrange such material to suit contemporary tastes and circumstances. All of these little-known recordings show Bazelaire to be one of the most accomplished and important cellists of the early twentieth century who, through his influence and pedagogy, has helped shape more recent playing.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)

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