Sol Gabetta: Live
Sol Gabetta’s handling of Martinů’s life-affirming First Cello Concerto (1930 55), which over a 25 year period grew from a chamber concerto into a fully fledged orchestral piece, embraces the gamut of colours and technical jinks called for with what sounds like genuine relish. This is superb cello-playing and Krzysztof Urbański directs a vital and sensitive accompaniment. As to the Elgar Concerto, when I reviewed Gabetta’s first recording of the work back in October 2010, I praised it as ‘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’. Venzago was conducting the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, an excellent band, but Simon Rattle’s alert and tonally rich Berlin Philharmonic is in a higher league altogether, and therein lies one of the principal differences between this version from 2014 and its generally more restrained predecessor.
Rattle’s presence can be heard, and felt, in virtually every bar of the score: the way he moulds phrases, nudges details to the fore, bends the line, holds tight to a salient accompanying detail (especially along the lower end of the spectrum) or responds to Gabetta’s characterful solo playing, now rather more stylised than it was before. She’ll toy with slides, vary her vibrato or suspend it altogether, indulge a widened range of dynamics and, at the start of the finale proper, gallop away with tremendous energy, more so than with Venzago.
Printed alongside that original 2010 review was an interview in which Gabetta confessed how important it is to find a different interpretation to Jacqueline du Pré’s. ‘The most terrifying thing to do as a young artist is to try and copy it because you can’t – and of course I wouldn’t want to’, as she put it then. Revisiting that older version now, I hear the ‘purity and clarity’ she was aiming at, but paradoxically the passing of time seems to have allowed her licence to be freer, more outgoing, more emotive and more expressively generous in her approach. Of course Rattle, the Berlin Phil and the live performing environment are likely contributing factors to this subtle rethink but I suspect that Gabetta’s renewed responses to Elgar are more significant still.
The DVD performance (also set down at the Festpielhaus, Baden-Baden, in 2014), if not absolutely identical, is more or less so. We note Gabetta’s tensed arm, back and shoulder musculature, her facial mobility, bodily too, in the first movement’s swaying second subject. In the scherzo it’s good to see her visibly relating to the other players, her habitually serious expression breaking into a smile, whereas you sense from her expressions that for her the Adagio is more a sighing song of thanksgiving than a mournful threnody.
Prior to the Elgar, Rattle conducts Ligeti’s Atmosphères, which is fascinating to watch on account of its massive scoring, including clothes brushes drawn across the piano strings, and there’s the magical segueing into the first-act Prelude to Wagner’s Lohengrin. It’s obvious that Rattle is having a whale of a time in The Rite of Spring and the orchestra respond to him with loving attention: note the long crescendo and gradual application of vibrato at the start of the opening bassoon solo and the groaning tonal fallout at the start of ‘The Sacrifice’. Taut rhythms and a sense of balletic engagement are also much in evidence.
As to which way you should acquire Gabetta’s fairly unmissable new account of the Elgar, if you’re especially keen on the idea of Rattle’s programme (a very good one) then go for the DVD; otherwise I’d stick with the CD, mainly because, musically speaking, Martinů’s Concerto is such a worthwhile and unusual coupling. The Elgar certainly compares favourably with, among digital options, Natalie Clein, Alisa Weilerstein and Steven Isserlis.