I’m sure we’re all familiar with various song transcriptions in the cello repertoire – Apres un Reve (Faure) and Beau Soir (Debussy) immediately spring to mind. and where there’s one, there will inevitably be more. After a LOT of listening, trying out ( there are many that just don’t quite work) we’re finally at the stage where we have a programme of some really beautiful gems.

So what goes into making a song transcription? It’s not just a question of playing the vocal part off the score because several factors have to be taken into consideration. Should it be played in the upper register or does that make it too “whiny” at times? Similarly the lower octave might sound too morose if it stays down too long and stands to be covered by the piano part. Certain keys just don’t work at all as neither register sounds any good in which case they have to be transposed but then you end up with everything in the same key.

The ” Colour” of the sound in French music is very important, and must often convey a certain fleetingness of phrase – my friend and colleague Professor Shirley Gie suggested the word Diaphonous which just about sums up that certain type of translucent sound that string players in particular have to achieve. Therefore bowing becomes rather important and is strongly linked to choice of tempo – too slow, (which might work for a voice) and the bowed sound becomes heavy and stultified, too fast and a certain amount of control is lost. String sound is idiomatic in its production, and needs time to breathe life into the phrases. Articulation and “enunciation” also comes into consideration – as a cellist I can not use the emotional facial expression to convey the meaning. That is the territory of a singer. Which repeated notes do I play and which do I replace with a longer sound that suits the cello? Can I articulate better with the bow or with the choice of fingering? Which string should I use , for they have different colours of sound?

Lots to give some thought to. Funny that –  when I was at college, my teacher always said I must sing on the cello, and many singers have told me that they were advised to sing like a cello. This journey has been and will continue to be a voyage of discovery in the world of song and I don’t regret one moment of it. Special thanks to my wonderful pianist Albert Combrink for suggesting it in the first place.

Read more about the French Song Project with Sarah Acres and Albert Copmbrink HERE.