SCHUMANN Cello Concerto; BRAHMS Serenade No 1
What I most enjoyed about this superbly engineered CD was the high level of musical interrelation that it more or less consistently conveys, between Natalia Gutman and the orchestra in the Schumann, and between Abbado and his young players in both works. Gutman’s playing, like Abbado’s conducting, is communicative and conversational, earnestly so at times, her tone mostly warm in texture, her bowing seamless and in the quieter sections quite ravishing although she’s also capable of muscular attack. For a sustained sense of musical line, try the opening minute or so of the slow movement – note how easily the music breathes, even at a relatively slow tempo. The effect is of poignancy beyond words. The finale is playful and fairly genial, and the clarity of Gutman’s articulation means that the solo line never sounds merely “busy”. The orchestra is there with her every bar of the way, ever responsive, attentive and affectionate.
Schumann’s Cello Concerto is a late work, prophetic in many ways of Elgar (a point well made in this performance) whereas Brahms’s First Serenade is relatively early – in fact it predates the completed First Symphony by 18 years. Abbado’s performance is chamber-like, modestly individual and for the most part beautifully played by the Mahler CO. Just listen to the easeful charm of the opening and the adoring way Abbado draws the first movement’s second subject (from around 1'52"), gradually slowing the tempo before picking it up again for a return to the otherwise pervasive ebullience. No single movement anticipates the later, equivocal Brahms more tellingly than the whimsical Scherzo, thoughtfully played here, while the tripping finale is both assertive and delicate – though, again, the second set is poetically underlined. This is prime-quality Abbado: points are made but never overstated, and there’s always the sense that quality musicians are working together with a common musical aim. Who could possibly ask for more?