Sol Gabetta & Alessio Bax at Weill Recital Hall – Beethoven, Shostakovich & Rachmaninov

Sonata in A for Piano and Cello, Op.69
Sonata in D minor for Cello and Piano, Op.40
Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano, Op.19

Sol Gabetta (cello) & Alessio Bax (piano)

Reviewed by: Luna Shyr

Reviewed: 18 March, 2013
Venue: Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Sol Gabetta. Photograph: Uwe ArensIt takes bravery to start with Beethoven’s A major Cello Sonata. The opening, unaccompanied melody lays bare the cellist, who has no grand chord or quiet note to warm up with. From Sol Gabetta the lyrical statement was smooth, confident and demure – the perfect introduction to a concert that revealed her captivating musical layers. Throughout her New York recital debut, played to a full house in the stately Weill Recital Hall, it was evident that this cellist adores her instrument. She leans into her rare 18th-century Guadagnini like a dance partner, coaxing it and listening intently as if she wants to know every nuance and capability it possesses. Gabetta drew a consistently rich tone from the lower strings and brought a dance-like energy to pizzicatos in the first movement and syncopation in the scherzo. In the finale, she played the lyrical opening with relish before launching into the Allegro vivace. Here the notes would have benefited from a lighter, crisper tone, but their quality was most likely due to her instrument’s sonorous nature.

Alessio Bax. Photograph: ©Lisa-Marie MazzuccoBeethoven paved the way for the evening’s highlight, the Shostakovich. By this point any tightness or nerves in the players had loosened up, enabling a broad expressiveness in both Gabetta and Alessio Bax. The composition, a brilliant mix of disparate styles that Shostakovich dedicated to his cellist friend Viktor Kubatsky, proved the perfect showcase, with Gabetta executing a marvelous slide up the C string and moving soulfully through broad swells in the Allegro non troppo. She was equally comfortable letting some notes hang open without vibrato, and pulling back during a muted section – where the cello sounded almost off-stage – while the piano marched forward with dark, searching chords. The duo then plunged into the scherzo’s triple-time ballet. Gabetta pounded through the insistent opening and then breezed through a section of harmonic glissandos as if she were spinning cotton candy. In the sublime Largo the cello’s muted and distant voice sounded at times like a bass, every suspended note made spellbinding. The duo shined in the closing Allegretto, a wonderful interplay of decisive, biting notes and lyrical phrases. Bax was at his best during bright passages of cascading scales and racing around the treble registers, while Gabetta impressed with a long, sustained section of frenetic spiccato followed by relaxed strumming of her strings as the piano took over the melody.

Bax maintained a respectful volume throughout and never overpowered the cello, but with Rachmaninov the piano part can be unavoidably attention-grabbing. Perhaps out of deference to Gabetta, Bax’s performance here often lacked the lush and romantic yearning that drips from Rachmaninov’s notes. It would have been understandable if Bax took off on his own and milked his passages for all their worth, such as the heartbreaking melody that begins the Andante. Gabetta, too, brought thoughtfulness to the piece. The musicians opened up, however, in the finale and left the audience cheering and clapping.

Gabetta’s warm and generous spirit (her first name means sun) radiated in two encores, both from her native Argentina. She and Bax held nothing back as they swept through a tango – schmaltz, slides and all – then a fast and furious frenzy of notes and strummed chords that made Gabetta seem more like a rock star than a classical cellist. These extras gave a taste of Gabetta at her technical and musical peak. It’s tremendous to think what time will bring: experience will no doubt deepen and ripen her immense capabilities.

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