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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Five Pieces in Folk Style (Fünf Stücke im Volkston) for cello and piano, Op. 102 (1849) [15.36]
Adagio and Allegro, original version for cello and piano, Op. 70 (1849) [8.44]
Three Fantasy Pieces (Fantasiestücke), original version for cello and piano, Op. 73 (1849) [10.41]
Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.129 (1850) [23.11]
Sol Gabetta (cello)
Bertrand Chamayou (fortepiano)
Kammerorchester Basel/Giovanni Antonini
rec. 2016/18, RIFFX Studio, Paris; Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland
SONY CLASSICAL 88985352272 [58.16]

For her new album, cellist Sol Gabetta has turned her attention to works by Robert Schumann. She is accompanied in his renowned cello concerto by period instruments of the Kammerorchester Basel and in the three sets of chamber works for cello and piano she teams up with Bertrand Chamayou playing an original fortepiano. As an admirer of Gabetta’s playing and having enjoyed her previous releases, I set about listening to this album with much enthusiasm.

After leaving Dresden to take up his appointment as the music director in Düsseldorf, Schumann wrote his Cello Concerto in October 1850 in just two weeks. At this time, he was describing the score as a Concert Piece for cello with orchestral accompaniment, emphasising the secondary role of the orchestra. The concerto may have been inspired by Christian Reimers, principal cellist of the Düsseldorf orchestra and Johann Andreas Grabau of the Gewandhausorchester. It seems Schumann rejected advice from his friend, cellist Robert Emile Bockmühl, to provide the opportunity for more virtuosity from the soloist. A planned première in 1852 didn’t take place, but the score was eventually published in 1854. By the time the work finally received its première in 1860 by soloist Ludwig Ebert with the Großherzogliche Hofkapelle Oldenburg, Schumann had been dead for nearly four years. It is the most famous Austro-German cello concerto by some distance; the three movements of the work are connected and are played without a break and with an accompaniment to the cadenza. Cellist Jan Vogler told me in interview that, as a German-born cellist playing in the United States, concert programmers wanted him to play a Romantic German cello concerto, with the Schumann being the obvious choice; consequently, he played it frequently (review).

Gabetta performs with passion throughout and excels with playing of conviction in the passages requiring brilliant virtuosic display. I enjoyed the generous Romanticism of the central movement marked Langsam with Gabetta expressing the characteristic songlike lyricism imbued in the score. At times, the writing feels like a love letter to Clara. In the closing movement, Sehr lebhaft, Gabetta’s striking playing is decisive with a sense of urgency. Playing a Giovanni Battista Guadagnini, Parma (1749) cello, Gabetta has been provided with recorded sound which is a touch too close for my taste. The Kammerorchester Basel, under Giovanni Antonini’s direction generally does full justice to Schumann’s orchestral writing but I find the louder passes slightly harder to judge as some of the detail is lost.

Of the various competing recordings of the Schumann Cello Concerto, since its release in 1992 my benchmark has been Heinrich Schiff for his aristocratic playing with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Bernard Haitink from 1988 at the Jesus-Christus-Kirche Dahlem, Berlin, on Philips. Schiff has firm competition from a stunning period instrument release from Jan Vogler accompanied by the Dresden Festival Orchestra under Ivor Bolton recorded in 2016 in the Lukaskirche, Dresden, on Sony. A recent release also of interest to me, that I hope to review shortly, is the cello concerto and chamber works played by Gautier Capuçon with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under Bernard Haitink, on Erato.

Gabetta has also included here three captivating sets of Schumann’s pieces for cello and piano, all written in 1849: the Five Pieces in Folk Style (Fünf Stücke im Volkston) for cello and piano, Op. 102, the Adagio and Allegro in the original version for cello and piano, Op. 70, and Three Fantasy Pieces (Fantasiestücke) in the original version for cello and piano, Op. 73. Here, Gabetta plays a Matteo Goffriller, Venice (c. 1725) cello and is accompanied Bertrand Chamayou using a fortepiano by J.B. Streicher, Vienna (1847). Gabetta’s performance is passionate and again her rich sounding cello is closely recorded and is balanced to slightly dominate the fortepiano. Although Chamayou’s fortepiano is of the period, I find it hard to enjoy its woody sound.

The booklet essay, entitled ‘Violoncello Works by Robert Schumann’ and written by Ruth Seiberts, is commendable.

Michael Cookson

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