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Sol & Pat
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin)
Sol Gabetta (cello)
rec. August 2014, Saarren church, Switzerland (Ravel, Xenakis, Kodály); August 2018, Zweisimmen church, Switzerland (Leclair, Widmann, CPE Bach, Coll, Markowicz, Zbinden, Ligeti, JS Bach)
Reviewed as a digital download from a press preview
ALPHA 757 [80:17]

Nothing Pat Kop does is ever wholly conventional, so the liner notes for this new release take the form of a slightly stagey dialogue between the performers that is equal parts illumination and cheese. Sometimes in her recordings, Pat Kop can produce the same combination but not here. Gabetta seems to ground Kopatchinskaja where Pat seems to draw out Sol. It is a most musically stimulating partnership. I don’t want to give the impression that I am anything but a fan of Kopatchinskaja. I much prefer musicians to take risks even if they don’t always work. I adored her recent Pierrot Lunaire recording whilst recognising that it wouldn’t be to all tastes - review. Gabetta is a musician I have encountered less, though I have enjoyed what I’ve heard, including a fine collection of Schumann centred on the concerto and her passionate approach to the first of Martinů’s cello concertos - review.

This new recording finds them both in resplendent form. I say recent though half of the recording dates back to 2014. In their dialogue this is explained as a consequence of busy schedules. There is no evidence of the five-year gap between sessions in terms of the programme, which is both adventurous and satisfying. It is well balanced between light and heavy, throwaway and substantial, old and modern (and in-between). It would make an outstanding concert, and such is the spontaneity of the playing that it often feels like a live performance. The close miking adds to the excitement and the hyper precision of the playing can easily tolerate this level of scrutiny. The level of easy virtuosity on display is exhilarating. They make even the most fiendish technical difficulties seem child’s play even as they send themselves up by listing the mistakes that have made it into the recording of Coll’s Rizoma in their liner notes dialogue. I haven’t always been overly impressed by the Spanish composer Francisco Coll, who is one of Pat Kop’s particular enthusiasms, but this is a fine work that almost sounds like late Beethoven quartets revisited.

There is a lot of fun to be had with this recording. A foot-stomping account of the Leclair dissolves in giggles before Widmann’s 24th Duo reveals that his idea of “all’inglese” means an arch quotation of the James Bond theme tune! Even the CPE Bach Presto becomes a skittering pizzicato that feels like it has ricocheted off the previous pieces. The feyness of the spoken introductions to Zbinden’s somewhat underwhelming evocation of the festivities around the Swiss National Day will not be to everyone’s taste. Like the music, I found it fairly harmless. By contrast, I greatly enjoyed how much Markowicz packed into just 1’39’’ of his Interlude. According to the performers, this was the winner of an online competition they ran together. If this is the standard of his music, I shall be seeking out more.

As I indicated earlier, there is also more substantial music too. The Ravel sonata and the Kodály Duo are in many ways obvious choices for anyone making a disc of music for violin and cello. Ravel’s sonata has always been something of the ugly ducking amongst his mature works. There is no denying that it is a thorny work with little on the surface to ingratiate itself to the casual listener. Personally, I have always thought of this as a gateway work to Ravel’s sparer later style.

Listening to this freewheeling performance any doubts about the quality of this piece fall away. This may be the performance this work has been waiting for. So many moments stand out: the ethereal fairy magic at the end of the first movement; the bantering wit of the scherzo revealed as an older cousin of the same movement in Ravel’s string quartet; the deep soulful anguish of the slow movement and throat-tightening whispering of its ending; the gutsy, almost Gitanes-stained insouciance they bring to the more acerbic music of the finale. I could go on.

As for comparisons, the Capuçons on Erato from 2002 are the obvious benchmark - review. Much as I enjoyed their forthright reading, I enjoyed Pat & Sol’s defter, more delicate touch even more. It just sounds more like Ravel! The Nash Ensemble from 1996 do sound very like Ravel but I found them a little staid next to the more combustible combination of Kopatchinskaja and Gabetta. Their scherzo, for example, remains stubbornly earthbound where Pat & Sol virtually levitate.

Two brief pieces from two of the grand old men of modernism, Xenakis and Ligeti, take us from the Swiss Fêtes to the much more serious affair that is the Kodály Duo. I liked the way the folk links of the Xenakis were emphasised, confounding his rather forbidding reputation, and it is nice to see that Ligeti’s standing seems to be growing with the years. It deserves to, as he is one of the greats of the twentieth century, even if this piece is a very minor work. Cleverly, Pat & Sol make audible the connections of both to the Kodály.

Kodály’s Duo is probably his greatest achievement and the work in which he came closest to his illustrious compatriot, Bartók. Sol & Pat give it a hair-raisingly intense outing. The second subject of the first movement, where the melody is passed from violin with cello pizzicato accompaniment to cello melody with violin accompaniment, is as finely tooled as a master jeweller setting a gem in a ring. If I were to say that Pat and Sol spur each other on to greater and greater things that might introduce the idea that there is something competitive about their partnership where there is almost telepathic unity.

My reference recording for the Kodály is the mighty János Starker with Josef Gingold on a 1987 release from Delos (DE1015). This is a typically forthright and noble account. The new recording benefits from a much stronger presence on violin, as the older performance is most definitely dominated by the cellist. To illustrate this point, have a listen to both recordings during the sotto voce passage about 7 minutes into the slow movement. Kopatchinskaja is untouchable here in terms of intensity and refinement of sound, with her tone still focused even when pared down to a sliver. Not that this is a reverse of imbalance of the Starker recording in favour of the violinist. As with the rest of this album, Gabetta is as strong an influence on proceedings as her partner. This is a genuine duo, if one in which each musician has spurred the other to very top of their game.

They round matters off with a poised account of the G major prelude from the 48. This is virtually the musical equivalent of a found object with the performers reading it straight off the page of the keyboard version and discovering that it works perfectly as a string piece. Indeed, it works so well that it raises that perennial question with Bach about the origins of his works – is this so idiomatic because it used to be a string piece?

This is much more than a memento of a musical partnership. In the Ravel and the Kodály, we have performances that sit with the very best. They take their place within an astutely constructed programme that never gets close to feeling limited by the combination of just two instruments. What this recording leaves me with is a sense of how well these two artists communicate their zest for life, which really is quite infectious.

David McDade

Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764)
Tambourin in C major [1:31]
Jörg WIDMANN (b.1973)
24 Duos for Violin and Cello:
XXIV Toccatina all’inglese [2:58]
XXI Valse Bavaroise [1:55]
Carl Philip Emmanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Presto, Helm 66 VI [1:51]
Francisco COLL (b.1985)
Rizoma [6:23]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Sonata in A minor for Violin and Cello M73 [19:56]
Marcin MARKOWICZ (b.1979)
Interlude [1:39]
Julien-François ZBINDEN (1917-2021)
La Fête au Village Op.9 [9:38]
Iannis XENAKIS (1922-2001)
Dhipli Zyia [3:46]
György LIGETI (1923-2006)
Hommage à Hilding Rosenberg [1:34]
Zoltán KODÁLY (1892-1967)
Duo for Violin and Cello in D minor Op.7 [27:12]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Prelude No.15 in G major BWV 860 [1:52]

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