Dans nos yeux (In our eyes)
Camille Berthollet (cello, violin, vocals)
Julie Berthollet (violin, vocals, piano)
Vincent Forestier (piano)
Maxime Ferri (keyboards, beatmaker)
rec. 2023, RiffX Studios, La Seine Musicale, Boulogne-Billancourt, France
Warner Classics 5419 779501 [61]

It would be easy to dismiss this new album by the prodigiously talented French sisters as lightweight crossover, more to do with exploiting their good looks and a few famous names from the pop music world. But that would be unfair.

Julie and Camille Berthollet burst onto the scene as teenagers, when the latter won a French TV classical talent competition in 2014. The win earned Camille – she’s the one with the long red hair – a recording contract with Warner France, and an album titled Prodiges (the name of the competition) where she was joined by her older sister.  Several more albums with joint billing have followed (Jonathan Woolf favourably reviewed the first of them back in 2016), only one of which has included a complete major work (Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the Presto from Summer being the work that won Camille the competition). The other albums are all collections of arrangements, one comprising French popular song, another TV and movie music. It is clear that the sisters do not see the need to conform to the norm for budding classical soloists, which is to release yet more recordings of the standard repertoire.

This new album both continues that journey, and also broadens it, as mixed in with Tchaikovsky, Bach and Beethoven are The Beatles, Queen, Leonard Cohen, and even some original compositions by Julie. The two also sing on a few tracks, and have done the majority of the arrangements: truly when talent was being handed out, they went back several times. On this album, the arrangements have dispensed with the orchestral support from their previous albums, and I think that this has been a good decision.

There are three standouts from the classical standards: the famous first movement from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and the Swan theme from Swan Lake, both for piano trio, and Chopin’s C sharp minor Nocturne for violin and piano. These are versions of quality that should stand the test of time.

Beyond the classical are three more gems. Minor Swing by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli is quite fabulous, due as much to Vincent Forestier’s piano as the Berthollets. The arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah for violin and cello is beautifully fragile, and the inclusion of keyboard electronics with the two strings for Hans Zimmer’s Now We Are Free from Gladiator shows that the old and the new can work well together (though not always – see next paragraph).

In such a diverse collection, there are bound to be some misses, the most glaring being Mozart’s Laudate Dominum, where the electronic drum backing makes it unlistenable. I should clarify that I’m not being a snob here: one of my favourite albums, Aria by Café del Mar, is a collection of opera arias in techno arrangements; among them is a quite stunning Dido’s Lament. The Prelude from Bach’s First Cello Suite is played as written, but the performance is a little bland.

There aren’t any booklet notes beyond a brief message from the sisters, which explains that the album is a return to the music they grew up with. The sound quality is very good.

If this crossover into pop music draws some listeners from that world into the classical one, and from there into more “serious” (and complete) classical works, surely that has to be a good thing. Don’t judge this book by its cover.

David Barker

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Trad.: Les deux guitares
Monti, V: Csárdás
Tchaikovsky: Swan Theme (From Swan Lake, Op. 20)
Lennon & McCartney: Yesterday
Popper: Hungarian Rhapsody, Op. 68
Gounod: Ave Maria
Grappelli: Rolls (From “Les Valseuses”)
Bach, J S: Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV1007: Prelude
Django Reinhardt, Stéphane Grappelli: Minor Swing
Cohen, L: Hallelujah
Julie Berthollet: Marin
Chopin: Nocturne No. 20 in C sharp minor, Op. post.
Hans Zimmer, Klaus Badelt, Lisa Gerrard: Now We Are Free (From “Gladiator”)
Beethoven: Moonlight Sonata (Adagio sostenuto from Piano Sonata No. 14)
Mercury: We Are the Champions
Julie Berthollet: Bolivar
Mozart: Laudate Dominum (From Vesperae solennes de confessore, K. 339)
Mercury: Bohemian Rhapsody