Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 (1919) [28:23]
Sospiri, Op. 70 (1914); (arr. Sřren Barfoed) [4:52]
Salut d’amour, Op. 12 (1888); (arr. by Sřren Barfoed) [3:02]
La capricieuse, Op. 17 (orch. Sřren Barfoed) [4:22]
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Silent Woods (Waldesruhe), Op. 68/5 (1891) [5:47]
Rondo in G minor for cello and orchestra, Op. 91 (1891) [7:39]
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Adagio con variazioni (1921) [11:45]
Sol Gabetta (cello)
Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Mario Venzago
rec. 9-12 November 2009, Koncerthuset, DR Byen, Copenhagen, Denmark
RCA RED SEAL 88697658242 [65:54]
The principal work here from Argentine Sol Gabetta is the Elgar. This much admired work provides numerous technical and emotional challenges for the performer. Written in 1919 one senses that it was penned by a man emotionally scarred by the horrors of the Great War albeit from the Home Front.
One reason for the escalation in its popularity and also providing the biggest challenge to other performers today is the magnificent recording by Jacqueline du Pré: something of an icon in the catalogue. Du Pré was just twenty when she took her 1712 Davidov Stradivarius cello to the Kingsway Hall, London in 1965 to make this now evergreen recording with the LSO under Sir John Barbirolli. I have that much reissued account on a digitally re-mastered disc on EMI Classics 6 23075 2 coupled with Cockaigne and Sea Pictures.
Turning now to Gabetta: In the opening movement marked Adagio - Moderato I love the way she finds nobility tinged with melancholy in the glorious main theme whioch is delightfully underlined. The characterisation of each section of the second movement contrasts vibrancy with deep longing. An even more intense yearning is captured by him in the famous Adagio. The quotient of anguish in the writing could easily represent the loss of millions of lives in the Great War. The warmly eloquent playing by soloist and orchestra in the Finale at times evokes a world of pageantry. It reminded me of a Pomp and Circumstance march. Gabetta and the Danish players under their Swiss conductor Mario Venzago impart a distinct ‘Elgarian’ feel to their interpretation. I’m sure that the late-lamented knights Sir Adrian Boult or Sir Colin Davis would have approved.
Gabetta’s moving and beautifully played recording of the Elgar is one that I will certainly return to often. As much as I admire and love to hear the du Pré/Barbirolli my preferred version is the intensely emotional 2012 Berlin account recorded live from Alisa Weilerstein and the Staatskapelle Berlin under Daniel Barenboim. With tremendous assurance Weilerstein achieves a similar depth of searching expression. Right from the opening bars, her boldly passionate approach convinces us that she is living the music rather than just playing it. I have this recent release on Decca B0017592-02 (c/w Elliott Carter Cello Concerto and Bruch Kol Nidrei).
Elgar’s Sospiri, an Adagio written for string orchestra, harp and organ is played here in an exceptional arrangement for cello and strings. Written in the months leading up to the Great War Sospiri was premičred in 1914 at the Queen's Hall, London and conducted by Sir Henry Wood. I understand that the title is Italian for ‘sighs’ or ‘sighing’. It seems that it was written shortly after the death of Julia H. Worthington, a wealthy American who was a close family friend of the Elgars. The score is often said to mirror Elgar’s deep sadness at the turbulent times that had Europe on the verge of war. Sol Gabetta’s restrained passion is quite marvellous and carries great emotional impact. The piece here lasts under five minutes yet in all seriousness I feel the disc is worth getting for this moving performance of Sospiri alone.
Of the alternative recordings of Sospiri there are a couple of versions that I feel are especially worthy of attention. The 1966 Kingsway Hall account of Sospiri played by the New Philharmonia under Barbirolli has a special timeless quality. This is available on EMI Classics 5 67240 2. In addition, I have a recording of Sospiri arranged for violin and piano that I am especially devoted to. Recorded in 2006 at the Galaxy Studios in the Belgium town of Mol violinist Isabelle van Keulen and pianist Ronald Brautigam play with real emotional sensitivity and convey a deep sadness (Challenge Classics CC72171).

The much loved miniature Salut d'Amour from 1888, although often dismissed as a mere salon piece, has become one of Elgar’s most played works. This short work, usually heard in its version for violin and piano, is played here in Barfoed’s version for cello and orchestra in turn transcribed from Elgar’s orchestral arrangement. I’ve heard more characterful and vibrant playing than Gabetta who takes a rather more melancholic approach. I love the sound of her cello pitted against the glorious flute part. The prominent brass section here reminded me at times of a colliery band. Written in 1891, La capricieuse, another of the so-called salon pieces, was in Heifetz’s repertoire and he also recorded it. Gabetta gives a fresh, rather playful and unashamedly romantic reading.
In 1891 Dvorák was preparing to leave his adored Czechoslovakia homeland for the post of director of the New York Conservatory. For his ‘farewell tour’ he included in the programme the scores Silent Woods (Czech: Klid) published under the German title Waldesruhe, Op. 68/5 and the Rondo in G minor. The melodic character piece Silent Woods is played with relentlessly concentrated nostalgia. In the engagingly ripe accompaniment from the orchestra I was very taken with the strikingly played flute solo at 2:13-2:36. The generally bright upbeat melody of the Rondo has an underlying melancholy. In the strongly lyrical writing there is vibrancy as well as sensitivity in Gabetta’s remarkably secure playing.
I should think that after the opera composer Puccini, Ottorino Respighi is Italy’s most renowned composer of the 20th century. Although he wrote several works for the stage he is famous for his concentration on orchestral and instrumental music. A splendid work that deserves far more attention is Respighi’s Adagio con variazioni for cello and orchestra. It was transcribed in 1921 from an earlier work for cello and piano. Gabetta demonstrates refined yet warmly expressive playing in what is a thoroughly enjoyable account.
Gabetta plays a 1759 G.B. Guadagnini on this eminently satisfying release. I have become particularly fond of the disc principally for the ‘killer’ track, Elgar’s Sospiri and for the marvellous performance of the Cello Concerto. Under Venzago the orchestra plays with great expression and remarkable sympathy. The sound is slightly warm yet splendidly clear with an impressive balance. I understand that the Elgar concerto was recorded live in concert but I have no information as to the recording circumstances of the other works. All things considered with playing and sound as stunning as this such things scarcely matter.
Michael Cookson

Stunning playing and sound... eminently satisfying.

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