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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129 (1850) [23:25]
Adagio and Allegro for cello and piano, Op. 70 (1849) [8:45]
Three Fantasy Pieces (Fantasiestücke) for cello and piano, Op. 73 (1849) [10:31]
Five Pieces in Folk Style (Fünf Stücke im Volkston) for cello and piano, Op. 102 (1849) [17:08]
Fantasy Pieces (Fantasiestücke) for piano, violin and cello, Op. 88 (1842) [19:22]
Gautier Capuçon (cello)
Martha Argerich (piano)
Renaud Capuçon (violin)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Bernard Haitink
rec. live 12-13 November 2015, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Netherlands (Op. 125); 2009-12, Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano, Switzerland
ERATO 9029563421 [78:19]

On this all-Schumann album of live recordings, Gautier Capuçon plays the Cello Concerto with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (COE) under Bernard Haitink, three works for cello and piano with Martha Argerich, and one for piano trio with Argerich and Gautier’s brother Renaud.

After leaving Dresden to take up his appointment as music director of Düsseldorf, Schumann wrote his Cello Concerto in October 1850, evidently in just two weeks. Initially he described the score as 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 Gewandhausorchester. It seems Schumann rejected his friend cellist Robert Emile Bockmühl’s advice for more virtuosity for the soloist. A planned première in 1852 did not 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 Großherzogliche Hofkapelle Oldenburg, Schumann had been dead for nearly four years.This is the most famous Austro/German cello concerto of the Romantic era by some distance. The three movements play continuously and there is accompaniment to the cadenza. Jan Vogler, a German-born cellist playing in the United States, told me in an interview that he was often asked for a Romantic German concerto, and the Schumann was the obvious choice.

There is much to relish in Capuçon’s alert, clean and eminently stylish performance. Although the cello is centre-stage, he avoids any Dionysian excess in a performance that feels distinctly period-informed. Rather than focusing on the tormented spirit that damaged Schumann’s life, the soloist adopts relative restraint, shrewdly concentrating more on communicating an undercurrent of the distressing inner anxiety and unease that the composer endured. In the opening movement marked Nicht zu schnell I am immediately struck by Capuçon’s fresh, spontaneous playing of unerring control and great beauty. The central movement of generous romanticism marked Langsam is immensely engaging. Capuçon effortlessly expresses the characteristic songlike lyricism imbued in the score. He creates a sound world that evokes a sense of vulnerability and an ever so gradually increasing, aching quality. At times Schumann’s writing feels like a love letter in music to his wife Clara. In the closing movement Sehr lebhaft, Capuçon’s decisive playing is buoyant, with an uplifting quality. His immaculate playing of the cadenza, with its circumspect orchestral accompaniment, is a total delight. The COE is in splendid form. Haitink’s assured and effectual balancing of the orchestral sections brings out gratifying detail in even the weightiest sections.

Overall, I find this a most rewarding listening experience. The live recording has impressive sound quality; audience noise is barely discernible and the applause has been left out. Capuçon’s cello sounds magnificent, with an especially gorgeous, dark mellow sound in its low registers. We are not told but I guess he is playing his 1701 Matteo Goffriller cello, which he played a few years ago at Schloss Elmau, Bavaria (review). This stunning account can certainly sit comfortably on the shelf alongside what has been my benchmark account since its release on Philips in 1992: Heinrich Schiff’s aristocratic playing with Berliner Philharmoniker and Bernard Haitink in 1988 at Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem Berlin. Other notable accounts is Jan Voghler’s striking period-instrument release (review). Sol Gabetta recently released on Sony her passionately played and closely recorded 2016 Dornach, Switzerland account; the album includes Schumann’s opuses 70, 73 and 102.

Capuçon’s includes three captivating sets of Schumann’s pieces for cello and piano, all written in 1849 – Five Pieces in Folk Style, Adagio and Allegro and Three Fantasy Pieces (Fantasiestücke). He is accompanied by Martha Argerich. He states how she “carries me along on the composer’s waves of romanticism and passion”. I cannot disagree: they give a recital full of style and verve and seem totally attuned to each other’s playing. There also is the set of Four Fantasy Pieces for piano trio, with Renaud Capuçon playng the violin. This especially successful performance gives a sense of friends and family making music together with captivating results. One wants to play these miniature works over and over again. The chamber works were recorded live with virtually no extraneous noise, and once again the applause has been left out.

Erato has presented this album commendably. The informative booklet essay was written by Adélaïde de Place. There are pictures of Capuçon complete with dress cape and open top carriage from a photo shoot at Château de Versailles gardens. I cannot praise this album highly enough. Gautier Capuçon is in sterling form, and both his orchestral and chamber partners do not disappoint in any shape or form. These first class Schumann performances and the sound quality combine to spectacular effect.

Michael Cookson

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