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Daily album review 28: Cellist Sol Gabetta tames pianist Hélène Grimaud in elegant partnership

By John Terauds on December 14, 2012

Argentinean-born cellist Sol Gabetta and French pianist Hélène Grimaud, the poster girls of free-spirited solo playing, have teamed up on a collaborative album that is surprisingly tame on first listen. But then the appreciation for what they’ve accomplished begins to grow.

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.

Grimaud, a decade older than musical partner Gabetta on Duo, released this fall by Deutsche Grammophon, appears to have encountered someone who can smooth the sharper edges of her sometimes wilful interpretations.

The album’s programme slices through the core of the cello-and-piano repertoire and is laid out in strict chronological order.

It begins with Robert Schumann’s three Op. 73 Fantasiestücke from 1849. Although the work is not labelled as such, its three parts work together much like a three-movement sonata.

The mood is set for the balance of the album, balancing the lyrical with the serious, and the strict collaboration of piano and cello as equal partners.

Also set from the first notes is an atmosphere of elegant restraint. Schumann’s may be Romantic music, but that’s no excuse to overindulge in drama.

The two artists are particularly careful to sculpt long, arcing musical phrases, they breathe as one, but they do it with metaphorical straight faces rather than by chewing the scenery.

The three sonatas that make up the rest of the disc are Johannes Brahms’s Op. 38 in E minor — dating from 1865, it is a deep-and-delicious favourite of mine that subtly pays homage to Bach in its musical motifs — the short work in Claude Debussy finished in 1915, and the much more substantial 1934 four-movement piece by Dmitri Shostakovich — the last two both in D minor.

Both artists have remarkable control over their instruments. Gabetta has a silken bow that turns steely only when absolutely necessary. Grimaud’s clear, highly articulated playing finds the right emphasis.

I particularly like how the album is not just a showcase for two great artists whose parts add up to something greater, but it also works as a beautiful, easy lesson in the evolution of emotional language in music from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century.

For more details on this disc, click here.

Here is a background video on the recording, made by Deutsche Grammophon:

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
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