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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Schubert arranged for cello and piano
Sonata for arpeggione and piano in A minor D.821 (1824) [25:29]
Sonatina for violin and piano in D major op. 137, n°1, D.384 (1816) [13:31];
Lieder: Ständchen [3:53]; An die musik [2:06]; Litanei auf des fest aller seelen, D.343 (1816) [2:54]; Die Forelle, D.550 (1817) [2:13]; Der Doppelgänger (from Schwanengesang, D.957 n° 13) (1828) [4:44]; Auf dem wasser zu singen: op.72, D.774 (1823) [3:25]; Täuschung (from Winterreise op. 89, n°19, D.911 (1827) [1:25]; Der müller und der bach (from Die Schöne Müllerin, op.25 n°19, D.759) (1823) [3:28]
Anne Gastinel (cello, Testore 1690)
Claire Désert (piano)
Rec. Studio Tibor Varga, Sion Switzerland; June 2005. DDD.
NAÏVE V 5021 [63.12]




People such as myself often refer to the ‘voice’ or ‘singing tone’ of an instrument when writing about music. In respect of the cello the present recording might on one level be seen as the embodiment of this, given that cello transcriptions of lieder form a sizable part of the programme. The reason Gastinel gives for the appropriation of material written for others is to ‘find myself alone in (Schubert’s) arms’. Whilst one cannot help but admire her devotion to Schubert, I had initial misgivings about how successful the results might be given that all the chosen lieder are so well known in their original form.

The programme opens with the sonata for arpeggione and piano now usually played on the cello. The arpeggione was short-lived as a practical instrument, and were it not for this work it might have sunk entirely without trace. One of Gastinel’s main rivals here is Pierre Fournier, to my ears the aristocrat of the French cello sound. His reading for DG (on a 2CD set, 447 349-2) differs notably from Gastinel’s in the tempi taken and the final timings achieved. Fournier comes in at a shade under 20 minutes compared to Gastinel’s distinctly leisurely 25.5 minutes. Fournier may be the more incisive and offer more contrast between movements, but Gastinel does not disgrace herself when it comes to tone. But seeing as they offer such divergent views of the work, you can take your pick as to which you prefer. Mine is slightly for Fournier overall.

The Sonatina, transposed down from the violin register, sounds reasonably effective on the cello. Its three short movements provide many memorable moments of interplay and wit that are happily caught in this recording. Here as elsewhere Gastinel’s full bodied tone (not too closely mircophoned) impresses.

As in the two properly instrumental works, when it comes to the lieder I often feel that the piano playing of Claire Désert carries the performances to a reasonable extent. Schubert is ever a challenge for the pianist – being technically demanding in Der Doppelgänger or disarmingly simple in An die Musik. Désert covers the gamut of demands with ease, and reinforces the favourable impression she recently made accompanying Philippe Graffin in works by Enescu, Debussy and Ravel (Avie AV2059).

Gastinel’s cello word-line takes each lied and plays the vocal part straight. Only on a few occasions is the line taken up an octave in mid-song. Where this does occur it is done to best exploit the instrument’s range and expressive capabilities. Ständchen is given somewhat plainly, and An die musik in much the same way. There’s nothing wrong with the approach per se but after the word-pointing of a Fischer-Dieskau or Baker it takes a bit of adjusting to. For most of the other lieder the same feeling pervaded my reaction – both immediate and more long term – however well played they are, and they are played with skill. Gastinel seems more at ease in the more outgoing lieder – all except Der Doppelgänger – but it is precisely this one she pulls off best, finding in it the fear and fragility that make it such haunting music. Also the contrast with the preceding Die Forelle could not be much greater. As a whole the programme might have benefited from more contrasts of mood, and in the playing too at times.

Songs after all have that special intimacy of words and music combined that Schubert’s genius caught with greater success than most. To take away the very thing that prompted his sublime word-settings is somehow nonsensical. It’s strange then that the booklet should include the texts with translations – in addition to useful notes by Duncan Druce and some rather superfluous ones by Didier van Cauwelaert. If one thing does come through though it is the strength of Schubert’s writing. That in the end is the only thing that really matters apart from interpretation, and secures this disc a warmly appreciative if qualified welcome.

Evan Dickerson



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