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Prayer
Ernest BLOCH (1880 – 1959)
From Jewish Life [10:02]
Baal Shem - Three Pictures of Hasidic Life (arr. Peter Purich for cello and orchestra) [14:03]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
From Jewish Folk Poetry (arr. Mikhail Bronner for cello and orchestra) [8:43]
Ernest BLOCH
Schelomo [22:28]
Pablo CASALS (1876–1973)
El Cant dels Ocelis (The Song of the Birds) [3:42]
Sol Gabetta (cello)
Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Candida Thompson
Orchestre National de Lyon/Leonard Slatkin
Cello Ensemble Amsterdam Sinfonietta
rec. 2012/14, Stadsgehoorzal, Leiden, Netherlands; Auditorium, Lyon, France. DDD
SONY CLASSICAL 88883 762172 [59:30]

Since 2007, Sol Gabetta has accumulated a discography that must be the envy of many another classical instrumental soloist. This is her latest release on the Sony label which takes Jewishness as its theme, the exception being the final encore number written by Pablo Casals. However, Casals greatly admired Ernest Bloch and although the composer dedicated his “Méditation hébraïque” to him, Casals did not himself record “Schelomo” but the sombre beauty of his own composition, with its descending minor intervals, certainly sounds as if it had drawn its inspiration from the Jewish tradition.

We are given only an hour’s music but as it is predominately elegiac and mournful in character, perhaps that is wise. However, “Nigun” is more rhapsodic despite its sorrowfulness. The Shostakovich pieces are less melancholy despite such titles as “The Song of Misery”; Shostakovich mines a vein of wry, ironic mawkishness so expressive of this composer’s sensibility. In the “Méditation hébraïque”, Bloch exploits the deepest register of the cello and its theme is typically built around falling minor fifths. “Schelomo” is by far the longest piece here; in it, the cello figures the voice of the wise king himself, and purports to tell his story musically and thematically rather than as a chronological narrative. In fact, the general listener is more likely to hear the work in more or less specific terms as a threnody for the suffering of the Jewish nation.

I have heard Gabetta live and although I admired her beauty of tone I did not find her sound very large. It is evident that this recording has placed the cello very forwardly in the sound picture. As a result, her breathing is sometimes too prominent and the orchestra is rather recessed, so we must accept that this is not a very natural soundscape, for all that we are allowed to appreciate the nuances of her playing. I was especially struck by Gabetta’s willingness to vary her vibrato, sometimes accentuating it to mimic the wailing quality of a cantor’s lament, as on the long, drawn-out concluding C of the opening “Prayer”, and elsewhere fining down her tone to an unpulsed pianissimo. Her intonation is superb and she makes telling use of quarter-tone slides to enhance the intensity of yearning in the music. Again, it is the vocal quality of her playing which is striking.

This issue is attractively packaged in the light cardboard slipcase increasingly favoured by recording companies, with notes in three languages.
 
Ralph Moore