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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Variations on a Rococo Theme, for cello and orchestra, Op. 33 (1876) [18:26]
Andante cantabile in D minor (second movement of String Quartet No.1, Op. 11, from 1871) arranged by Tchaikovsky for cello and string orchestra, Op. Posth. (1888) [6:28]
Pezzo Capriccioso for cello and orchestra, Op. 62 (1887) [7:01]
Nocturne (from fourth of the six pieces for solo piano, Op. 19 from 1873) arranged by Tchaikovsky for cello and orchestra (1888) [4:16]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33 (1872) [19:59]
Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
Pampeana No. 2, Rhapsody (for cello and piano, Op. 21 from 1950) arranged by Ginastera for cello and string orchestra (c.1950) [7:54]
Sol Gabetta (cello)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Ari Rasilainen
rec. 13-17 September 2005, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Germany. DDD
BMG-RCA RED SEAL 82876759512 [64:42]
 


One cannot fail to draw parallels between Gabetta and her RCA counterpart from the 1980s and early 1990s the Israel-born, naturalized Canadian Ofra Harnoy. The glamorous Harnoy with her glorious blonde/brunette tresses was heavily marketed by the record label, often seen posing seductively over her cello in a low cut ball gown. I hope that the prestigious RCA do not see fit to promote the young Sol Gabetta in the same way. On the evidence of this desirable recording if her superb playing was the only factor necessary to sell discs there is no need for tawdry marketing gimmicks.
 
The cosmopolitan Gabetta was born in Argentina in 1981 into a Franco-Russian family. She then lived in Madrid for two years and for the last fourteen has been living in Switzerland, the holder of a French passport. Although we are not told I would guess that this is her debut disc.
 
Her playing is not at all heavy, an approach that seems just perfect for these scores where evidently her sound production is so excellent. I was struck by the broad range of expression and sense spontaneity. The use of vibrato is refreshingly sparing compared to many other performers who wish to wring out every single ounce of sickly sweet emotion. She plays a J. B. Guadagnini cello from 1759, incorrectly described as a Guadagnino in the annotation. Orchestra and conductor are perfect partners throughout and play with assurance and sensitivity.
 
The opening work, the Variations on a Rococo Theme was the nearest that Tchaikovsky came to composing a cello concerto. In this score his fondness for Baroque music and his admiration of Mozart are both strong influences. After a short introduction and theme, seven variations follow, each separated by an orchestral ritornello. In the Rococo Variations Gabetta provides highly confident playing, both exquisite and eloquent. I loved her tender delicacy in the beautiful variation III, andante sostenuto. By contrast her interpretation of variation IV, andante grazioso is carefree, with a childlike playful quality.
 
This beautiful account of the Rococo Variations is of an especially high standard and is one that I will often return to. The most popular versions of this work are the evergreen and heavyweight accounts from Rostropovich and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Karajan (Deutsche Grammophon 447 413-2) and also from Lynn Harrell and the Clevelanders under Maazel (Decca Ovation 4250202).
 
In 1888 Tchaikovsky arranged the second movement of his String Quartet No.1 into the Andante cantabile in D minor for cello and string orchestra. This forms a highly appealing and popular score, rich in Russian folk-song character, that Gabetta performs with genuine assurance, resisting the temptation to linger and over-sentimentalise.
 
Gabetta displays surefooted playing that is high on vivacity in the Pezzo Capriccioso. In the short Nocturne she performs tenderly with an intensity of feeling conveying reflective qualities.

Saint-Saëns wrote several scores for the cello. The Concerto in A minor is the first and finest of his two cello concertos, and is rightly regarded as one of the best loved in the repertoire. The sunny and colourful score is compact in structure and plays in one continuous movement with three distinct sections. I enjoyed Gabetta’s expressive lyricism in what comes across as fresh and immediate, rich in poetry and emotion. In these expert hands the majestic opening section allegro non troppo just erupts with the joyous optimism. The minuet-like central section marked allegretto con moto is shaped and moulded to near perfection with love and affection. In the tempo primo closing section of the score Gabetta confirms command of her instrument with thrilling playing that gains in intensity and concludes in high spirits.

Treasured by me for the refined musicianship and poetic playing is the version of the Saint-Saëns from Steven Isserlis with the LSO under Michael Tilson Thomas from 1992 at Blackheath (RCA Red Seal 82876 65845 2). I also admire the eloquent 1980 Paris account from Yo-Yo Ma with the Orchestre National de France under Maazel (Sony Classical SMK 66935).
 
Alberto Ginastera arranged the Pampeana No. 2, from his 1950 score for cello and piano. It is cast in one continuous movement and divided into four sections: an exciting and enjoyable work of stark and swiftly changing contrasts. Gabetta’s exhilarating performance is bold and expressive. I was exceptionally impressed with the radiant tone that is heard to such great effect at point 5:40-6:04 (track 16).
 
The recording has warm and clear sonics. With the closely caught sound one can hear her playing movements and breathing. Concise and interesting booklet notes are provided, however, I would have preferred rather more information.
 
These are thoroughly enjoyable performances. I hope this will be the first of many successful recordings of a wide range of repertoire from this exciting young Argentinian cellist.
 
Michael Cookson
 

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