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Anne Gastinel (cello)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Arpeggione, Sonatina and Lieder transcriptions for Cello and Piano
Sonata for arpeggione and piano in A minor D.821 (1824) [25:29] 1
Ständchen (from Schwanengesang) D.957, no.4 (1828) [3:53] 1
An die Musik  D.547 (1817) [2:06] 1
Sonatine for violin and piano in D major D.384 (1816) [13:31] 1
Litanei auf das Fest Aller Seelen D.343 (1816) [2:54] 1
Die Forelle D.550 (1817) [2:13] 1
Der Doppelgänger (from Schwanengesang) D.957, no.13 (1828) [4:44] 1
Auf dem Wasser zu singen D.774 (1823) [3:25] 1
Täuschung (from Winterreise) D.911 (1827) [1:25] 1
Der Müller und der Bach (from Die schöne Müllerin) D.795 (1823) [3:28] 1
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Cello Concerto in A minor Op.129 (1850) [22:03]2
Fantasiestücke for cello and piano Op.73 (1849) [10:44] 1
Five pieces in folk-style Op.102 (1849) [16:01] 1
Adagio and allegro for cello and piano in A flat major Op.70 (1849) [9:38] 1
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata No.1 for cello and piano in E minor Op.38 (1865) [26:01] 3
Sonata No.2 for cello and piano in F major Op.99 (1886) [25:45] 3
Anne Gastinel (cello)
1 Claire Désert (piano); 3 François-Frédéric Guy (piano); 2  Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège/Louis Langrée. rec. August 1998, Théâtre des Quatre Saisons, Gradignan, France (Brahms); May 2001, Théâtre des Quatre Saisons, Gradignan, France (Schumann chamber pieces); July 2001 Philharmonic Hall, Liège, Belgium (Schumann concerto); June 2005, Studio Tibor Varga, Sion, Switzerland (Schubert).
NAÏVE V 5074 [63:12 + 59:26 + 51:85]

 


This is a repackaging of three previously issued CDs. A cardboard box contains the three CDs, each in a case of its own and each carrying the number under which it was originally issued: Naïve V 5021 (Schubert), Naïve V 4897 (Schumann) and Naïve V 4817 (Brahms).
Now in her mid-thirties, Anne Gastinel studied at the Music Conservatory in Lyon and at the National Music Conservatory in Paris. She studied with Yo Yo Ma, Janos Starker and Paul Tortelier. Certainly there is, to my ears, nothing to complain of technically in her playing, her tone is full but varied, and her playing is characterised by sensitivity and lyricism. Judged by the very highest standards, I wonder if she doesn’t sometimes let meticulous attention to detail take a little too much precedence over the larger design of the pieces she is playing, but this is a minor quibble in the face of a rewarding programme, all very well recorded.

The earliest recording here is that of the Brahms’ sonatas, in which Gastinel is very well-partnered by François-Frédéric Guy, the partnership between the two impressive in its air of spontaneity and mutual responsiveness. They give a good account of the lengthy opening allegro – an allegro which always seems to me too long for the good of the works as a whole – with an aptly sombre atmosphere, a melancholy which is more than the mere affectation which some performances suggest, but isn’t excessively self-pitying. Perhaps they fall a little short of the truly graceful in their account of the central allegretto quasi menuetto, but there is an notable clarity and passion to their interpretation of the complex polyphonic lines of closing allegro. The whole offers an intense, youthful-feeling performance of real persuasiveness. Brahms’ second cello sonata was not written for another twenty years, years in which, amongst other things, the four symphonies were composed. A better-balanced work in four movements, the second sonata has had some marvellous performances on record over the years, from the likes of Rostropovich and Serkin, Du Pré and Barenboim, Isserlis and Evans. Good as Gastinel and Guy are, though they don’t quite make it into such very distinguished company. They play with both passion and control, not least in the allegro passionato of the third movement, and there is much to enjoy in their very committed performance of the opening allegro. The adagio affetuoso doesn’t perhaps communicate the sheer gravity of feeling which some of the very finest performances on record do. But, even if they don’t displace the very finest recordings, these are utterly admirable, highly enjoyable readings, which every admirer of Brahms’s chamber music should endeavour to hear.

It is not perhaps surprising that having shown herself so well-attuned to the demands of Brahms Gastinel should also prove herself to be an assured interpreter of Schumann. In some ways the pieces played by cello and piano, though they are not the most substantial items on the Schumann disc are perhaps the most thoroughly satisfying. The three Fantasiestücke carried the full title Fantasiestücke für Pianoforte und Clarinette (ad libit. Violone od. Violoncell) and certainly they work very well on the cello. Gastinel captures the tenderness of the first piece and the happy lightness of the second equally well; she is especially impressive in the in the urgent music of the third piece, where her pianist Claire Désert – excellent throughout – handles the triplet rhythms with incisive, yet considered, power. The Five Pieces in Folk-Style (Fünf Stücke in Volkston) were written for cello and piano, though again the use of alternative instruments was invited by the composer. All five of these pieces have a mature charm, full of attractive melodies. They are pervaded by an uncloying sweetness, not least in the exquisite third piece, in the playing of which Gastinel’s lyrical work is heard at its loveliest. I had forgotten just how delightful these pieces are – and Gastinel and Désert offer a very eloquent and persuasive reminder of their qualities. The Adagio and Allegro was originally scored for horn and piano, though Schumann also prepared a version for cello and piano. The nocturne-like sensuality of the adagio here gets a beautiful and sensitive interpretation – this is a reading which has all the intimacy and innerness implicit in the marking that requires it to be played langsam, mit innigem Ausdruck.

In the Schumann concerto, there is much to admire and enjoy, but I wonder if Gastinel’s reading doesn’t underplay the work’s drama and sense of conflict, placing the emphasis (a slight over-emphasis?) on its inwardness, This approach, not surprisingly, bears richest fruit in the adagio – a poised, tender, moving account. Elsewhere the performance is somehow just a little too quiet (not only in terms of dynamics), a little short on contrast. So, while this is a fine, engaged performance, technically faultless, very well worth hearing, it isn’t quite outgoing enough to be judged as one of the very greatest recordings of this fascinating work. The Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège, under the direction of Louis Langrée, make an altogether admirable contribution to the performance.

The most recent of these CDs is that devoted to Schubert and it seems to be the only one previously reviewed on these pages (see review). I find myself largely in agreement with Evan Dickerson when he extended to the disc “a warmly appreciative if qualified welcome”. The Arpeggione sonata works perfectly well on the cello, and Gastinel’s treatment of the wistful opening theme of the first movement is spaciously lyrical. Indeed her interpretation of the whole sonata is unhurried, so that there is less contrast of tempo and dynamics than the work can very reasonably bear – as, for example, in performances by Maisky and Argerich (on Philips) or, indeed, Rostropovich and Britten (on Decca). As with the earlier performance of the Schumann concerto there is a kind of restraint which has a genuine attraction of its own, but is water colour rather than oils, as it were. Gastinel, to put it another way, is perhaps more given to poetry than to drama. On the whole, I rather like the results, but not everyone will. It is perhaps this propensity for the poetic that makes the song transcriptions so successful. It is perhaps an odd idea to produce instrumental transcriptions of the songs at all  (though I wouldn’t go as far as Evan Dickerson does in calling it “nonsensical”), since it is in the interplay of two kinds of meaning – the verbal-specific and the musical-general/abstract – that the intrinsic nature of great song writing lies. But like a lot of ideas that don’t, logically, make a lot of sense, in practice these transcriptions generally work very well. They make one think again about works that may be in danger of becoming over-familiar; they allow one to experience some of Schubert’s greatest melodies in a different way. They also allow Gastinel to show us just how she can make her Testore cello of 1690 sing with unexaggerated, tonally beautiful, expressiveness. In these transcriptions (as in the other works on the CD) Claire Désert is a thoroughly admirable partner; indeed her playing on these versions of, say, An die Musik and Der Doppelgänger, must surely make more than a few singers in need of a good accompanist pay close attention!

These three CDs show Gastinel to be a highly accomplished soloist, a distinctive musical personality who offers technically certain, emotionally committed performances characterised by a kind of innerness which is very persuasive, but which perhaps limits her ability always to do full justice to the dramatic dimensions of some of the romantic repertoire to which she is so obviously drawn. I have enjoyed her particular slant on the music contained on these discs, but some may find it a little restrained.

Glyn Pursglove


 

 


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