Sol Gabetta’s first recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto, with the Danish National Symphony, was much admired when it appeared six years ago. This one, taken from a concert in the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus in 2014, is a far glossier affair orchestrally. Simon Rattle’s tendency to overmould the phrasing is sometimes too obvious, but Gabetta’s playing is intense and searching, less introspective than some performances in the Adagio, perhaps, but epic in scale in the outer movements, and always keenly responsive. Those who possess her earlier disc might not think they need to invest in this one, but would then miss Gabetta’s vivid, pulsating account of the Martinů concerto, which went through a quarter of a century of revisions before the definitive 1955 version she plays here, with Krysztof Urbański conducting. She finds real depth and intensity in it, both in the slow movement and in the introspective episode that interrupts the finale’s headlong rush.
The first two of the three string quartets of Mendelssohn's Op. 44 were recorded by the Cherubini Quartett in 1990. With its transparent textures, elegant phrasing, and refined execution, the ensemble is temperamentally suited to this music, which seems to require those qualities above others. While Mendelssohn acquired many advanced compositional techniques from studying Beethoven's quartets, he never presumed to plumb the master's spiritual depths, and preferred instead to emulate the Classical gentility and poise of Haydn and Mozart. The String Quartet No. 3 in D major, Op. 44/1, is predominantly exuberant and optimistic, and the Cherubini Quartett delivers it in a light, effervescent style, and only occasionally touches on the deeper passions that Mendelssohn prized in this work. More serious and fervid in expression, the String Quartet No. 4 in E minor, Op. 44/2, evokes the tense emotions of eighteenth century Sturm und Drang. The Cherubini Quartett renders the work with a darker coloration and richer tone, but these shadings neither interfere with the clarity of the parts nor weigh down Mendelssohn's fleet lines.
“There is no more important reason for composing music than spiritual renewal.”–Sofia Gubaidulina. Shostakovich once famously said of his student, Sofia Gubaidulina, “I want you to continue along your mistaken path.” Mistaken, that was, in the former Soviet Union, where the deliverance preached through her devout composing sat uncomfortably with censors. So much so that when she composed her Seven Words in 1982, she was obliged to leave out “…of Our Savior on the Cross” from its title. Nevertheless, this riveting work is one of the twentieth century’s reigning masterpieces.
The liner notes for Barry Guy's extended composition/improvisation Folio (a printer's term for a piece of paper folded in half to create four pages) refer extensively to Nikolai Evreinov's 1912 play The Theatre of the Soul, in which three aspects of the soul are introduced by a pretentious professor who claims the Self as Trinity: Rational, Emotional, and Eternal (or subconscious). Performed a scant five years before the Russian Revolution and simultaneously as Freud's big exposition of the Id, the Ego, and the Superego, the play is one of those moments where history seems to be suggesting bits and pieces of itself. What that all has to with Guy's piece is ponderous at best and known only to Guy. Even Brian Lynch's liner essay is speculative and academic.
It's the late Vier ernste Gesänge, Op. 121, that get the big print on the cover of this release by the awe-inspiring baritone Matthias Goerne, but actually the music on the album falls into a neat early-middle-late classification scheme. The group of middle-period settings of poetry by Heinrich Heine doesn't even get graphics on the cover, but these are fascinating. Brahms wrote a lot of songs, but you couldn't do better than the selection and performances here for a cornerstone collection item. Beyond the sheer beauty of Goerne's voice is an ability to shift gears to match how Brahms' style evolved. If you want to hear his real slashing, operatic high notes, check out the Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 32, settings of poems by the minor poets Georg Friedrich Daumer and Karl August Graf von Platen. These rather overwrought texts add up to a kind of slimmed-down Winterreise, and they catch the spirit of the still-young Brahms with his strong passions, elegantly controlled. The Heine settings, which come from several different sets of lieder, are not that often heard and are in some ways the most compelling of the group here.
Beethoven as a giant of the symphony and the sonata has somewhat overshadowed Beethoven as a creator of songs. On this varied and insightful recording, tenor Werner Güra performs a program featuring Adelaide and the first song cycle in history, An die ferne Geliebte, that proves Beethoven's lieder lacked neither appeal nor originality. Accompanist Christoph Berner plays a Streicher fortepiano of 1847 that is perfectly suited to both the songs and to his solo performance of the wonderful Bagatelles of Op.126.