Duo: Schumann & Brahms
Amid the psychobabble of the wholly dispensable booklet note, detailing the miraculous ‘musico-biological process’ between these two musicians, there’s one insight from Sol Gabetta that rings true: ‘I’m more like the air, Hélène is the earth.’ This informs their performance of Brahms’s smouldering E minor Sonata: in the grand first movement, Hélène Grimaud produces a context of almost orchestral depth and spaciousness into which Gabetta projects her eloquently refined lines. Brahms’s shadowy apprehension is given its full weight with steady tempos that never drag. The Allegretto is winsomely delicate; only in the fugal finale does Gabetta’s touch suddenly seem too light, lacking the power and tone of Grimaud, who dominates here.
Gabetta’s elegance and sense of improvisatory freedom are apt in Schumann’s Fantasiestücke until we reach the explosive third movement, where she pulls the theme’s dotted rhythms out of shape. These are echoed in the piano part, which makes it particularly jarring. She also stretches the falling syncopated phrases, until they almost sound like two long quavers. It’s a disconcerting reminder of how precise you need to be in Schumann, however rhapsodic his torrents appear.
Debussy’s riveting Sonata benefits from Grimaud’s depth of field and Gabetta’s subtle palette of timbres, and the cellist’s willingness to let her sound ring free. She occasionally drags behind her pianist, but this is a highly engaging reading. A greater degree of risk-taking enlivens their Shostakovich Sonata, for which Gabetta finds her vicious streak, with thrilling results in the finale.