Stücke im Volkston, Op. 102; Adagio and Allegro in A flat, Op. 70; Fantasiestücke; Cello Concerto
Sol Gabetta (cello), Bertrand Chamayou (piano); Basel Chamber Orchestra/Giovanni Antonini
Sony Classical 88985352272 58:11 mins
Beware first impressions. Listening to Sol Gabetta’s lean, volatile, often sharply featured Schumann you might assume that her purpose is polemical. Let’s forget all that Romantic dreaminess, pale lilies dripping with tears, and welcome back Mephistopheles, the wickedly ingenious, sometimes grotesque prankster who so troubled Clara Schumann. The opening of the Adagio und Allegro, almost vibrato-less and more edgily plaintive than sweetly caressing, seems to seal the deal.
But keep listening and Gabetta’s powers of persuasion do begin to work a transformation. Gone is the notion of Schumann as a kind of German Romantic Fotherington-Thomas – and perhaps that’s no bad thing. Have we focused too much on the vulnerability, the exquisitely pained tenderness, and lost the demonic element in Schumann? Certainly she makes a remarkable case for her re-viewing of the Cello Concerto, which emerges as nervous, mercurial, more brilliantly lateral in its thinking than in any other recording I can remember. Even the orchestration seems more incisive, more in keeping with the cello’s thought-processes under Giovanni Antonini’s sympathetic direction, and with the less plush, more wiry and transparent sound of the period instruments. The finale holds the attention particularly well – the dreamlike logic goes on almost to the end, and what a fascinating, unsettling dream it is. Going back to Steven Isserlis though, I feel he manages to convey a lot of this too, though with much more tenderness. His devil has a heart too. Gabetta feels a shade more – ruthless? But her fascinatingly fresh approach needs to be experienced. Your conception of Schumann may never be quite the same again.