Elgar Cello Concerto
Don’t let the image of an attractive lady on the CD booklet-cover fool you into thinking that the marketing people are up to their old tricks again, putting the face before the music. Beauty and talent can go hand-in-hand and Sol Gabetta’s Elgar Concerto is one of the best around, a heartfelt, tonally rounded performance, intimate and wholly at one with Mario Venzago’s generally subtle handling of the orchestral score. Check out the passage after the opening cadenza where the main subject is handed seamlessly between soloist and strings, or Venzago’s sensitive shaping of the woodwinds’ third idea or Gabetta’s nimble, catch-me-if-you-can Scherzo. Hers is a softly spoken presence, especially beautiful in those infinitely sad modulations that fall towards the end of the piece. It’s a real contender, on a par I would say with Natalie Clein (EMI, A/07), and the fill-ups, although relatively brief, are by no means insubstantial.
The opening of Sospiri, where Gabetta enters on a whisper and strings fall about her as if from above, deathly quiet, is extraordinarily effective and by adding a prominent brass presence to Salut d’amour Søren Barfoed (who arranged all three Elgar miniatures) lends the piece a rich extra serving of local British colour. La capricieuse loses none of its playfulness through being darker and deeper in tone than when played on the violin, and both the Dvorák pieces suit the programme’s overall mood of peaceful reflectiveness. I’ve harboured a fondness for Respighi’s Adagio con variazioni ever since I discovered André Navarra’s ardent Supraphon recording. Gabetta is gentler and generally more in tune than Navarra was, but she shows her technical mettle on the bonus CD of Pe¯teris Vasks’s striking solo piece The Book where she explores and exploits just about every virtuoso effect in the book which includes, in the Dolcissimo second movement, singing while playing. Strongly recommended.