Offenbach: Complete Duos for 2 Cellos / Sollima, Noferini

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Years before he took Paris by storm as a brilliantly witty composer of operettas, Offenbach was celebrated across Europe as a virtuoso cellist. It is...

Years before he took Paris by storm as a brilliantly witty composer of operettas, Offenbach was celebrated across Europe as a virtuoso cellist. It is this lesser-known aspect of his creative personality that is explored by Giovanni Sollima and Andrea Noferini, who have spent years immersing themselves in the technically intricate but always lyrical and extrovert pieces which Offenbach wrote for his instrument. Having learned the violin and cello as a child, Offenbach studied at the Paris Conservatoire, and soon secured a position in the orchestra of the Opéra-Comique. He spent much of the 1840s as a virtuoso cellist touring Europe, including appearances in London and at Windsor where he entertained during the Ascot week banquet. The greater part of this collection, which includes many world-premiere recordings, is taken up with Offenbach’s Cours Méthodique de duos pour deux violoncelles: a ‘progressive’ course of musical instruction for pupil and teacher to play together, arranged in order of increasing difficulty. However, these studies are far from dryly didactic in character. They include imitations of hymns, choruses, funeral marches and the sound of other instruments, such as a tuba or a French horn.

Following up the success of a 2CD selection (94475) from this little-known box of delights, Giovanni Sollima and Andrea Noferini present Offenbach’s entire output, which ventures far beyond the course of studies to include fantasias and transcriptions based on the most popular operas and operettas of his day. The full character of the composer is captured by Sollima and Noferini: his delight in life, his observation of all its passing pleasures and frustrations; his irrepressible sense of humour. Cellists and lovers of 19th-century rarities alike will want to investigate this ambitious survey, and discover for themselves the hidden side of Jacques Offenbach.


Unless you are a cello student, you probably are not aware that Jacques Offenbach of operetta fame composed numerous duos for two cellists. Because Offenbach was a cellist, his handling of the instrument is unsurprisingly idiomatic, and, needless to say, abundantly tuneful. One would think that monotony or fatigue would set in after hearing several three-movement duets in succession, and with all repeats observed. Yet Offenbach’s canny use of registers and judicious partitioning of melody and accompaniment between the players always manage to hold your attention. So does the impeccable intonation, ensemble unanimity, and intelligently nuanced phrasing that cellists Andrea Noferini and Giovanni Sollima bring to the table.

A good example of their discreet vibrato can be found in Op. 19 No. 1’s Theme with Variations, while the Op. 21 No. 3 Scherzo’s scampering triplet detaché patterns never sound scratchy. Ease and eloquence characterize high-lying passages (Op. 52 No. 1’s opening Allegro, for instance). Even the most technically exposed of the Op. 78 Etudes pose no problems, as the cellists’ effortless dispatching of No. 1’s cascading figurations and deft navigation of the fleet, Mendelssohn-like No. 6 bear out.

Noferini and Sollima also allow themselves spontaneous leeway when the music calls for it. Here listeners might lean toward the surface polish and more studied demeanor of the Anne Gastinel/Xavier Phillips recording on La Dolce Volta. However, for overall artistry, comprehensiveness, and sonic excellence, Noferini and Sollima surpass the fine albeit dryly engineered Paul Christopher and Ruth Drummon Offenbach cycle released on the Human Metronome label.

One detail of discographical housekeeping is worth mentioning. I was aware of a 2011 release with Noferini and Sollima playing the Op. 49, 51, and 54 Offenbach duets. Since the complete boxed set cites all of the recordings having taken place between 2020 and 2021, I naturally assumed that the duo had rerecorded these three opus numbers. However, the movement timings for both releases are identical. Comparative listening revealed striking similarities between performances, yet I couldn’t help but notice the newer edition’s more robust engineering. I eventually learned that the 2011 Op. 49, 51, and 54 recordings were indeed remastered for the present release.

Perhaps general listeners will find eight hours worth of Offenbach cello duos too much of a good thing, yet Brilliant Classics’ edition is self-recommending to all cello students, cello pedagogues, and, needless to say, cello fanatics.

-- (Jed Distler)

Product Description:

  • Release Date: February 03, 2023

  • UPC: 5028421962511

  • Catalog Number: BRI96251

  • Label: Brilliant Classics

  • Number of Discs: 7

  • Period: Romantic

  • Composer: Jacques Offenbach

  • Performer: Giovanni Sollima, Andrea Noferini