SCHUMANN: Five Pieces in Folk-style, Op. 102; Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70; Fantasy Pieces for Cello and Piano, Op. 73; Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129 – Sol Gabetta, cello/ Bertrand Chamayou, fortepiano/ Basel Chamber Orchestra/ Giovanni Antonini – Sony 88985352272, 57:54 (11/30/18) ****:

Schumann’s cello works, 1849-1850, occupy this recording–the chamber music pieces having been captured 10-11 October 2018 and the Concerto 2-4 June 2016–with Sol Gabetta’s soaring 1725 Goffriller and 1759 Guadagnini instruments.  Gavetta opens with Schumann’s concession to popular taste, with his Five Pieces in Folk-style, the first of which Schumann subtitles vanitas vanitatum, likely a reference to favorite poem by Goethe that sings of a drunken, one-legged soldier, here in faintly Hungarian mode. Three and four-bar phrases mark the F Major Langsam movement, in the form of a rocking lullaby. The third movement, Nicht schnell, mit viel Ton zu spielen, provides the dramatic kernel of the set, a rather tragic and poignant utterance close in spirit to Ich hab im Traum geweinet from the Poet’s Love cycle.  After a comparatively aggressive and optimistic Lebhaft, the last of the set, Stark und markirt, sounds like a grim narrative, replete with a “fate” motif.

The Op. 70 Adagio and Allegro originally bore the title Romance and Allegro, and the work reflects good spirits in the composer’s outlook in 1849 Dresden. The piece—originally for horn but adapted to the cello’s hearty range—fluctuates between the two main Schumann personae, Florestan and Eusebius. The opening section, deeply passionate and introspective, yields to the vigorous Allegro, the two sections providing ample testimony to the expressive range in Gabetta’s art. Both lyrical and explosively vehement, the music displays Schumann’s high capacity for lyric outpouring and for tricky agogics that make both players earn their upkeep.

Portrait of Schumann

Robert Schumann

The Op. 73 Fantasy Pieces had been intended for clarinet and piano, and the form of three inter-related movements will carry over into the Concerto. The Zart und mit Ausdruck designation signifies the refined poetry of Eusebius, whose motion carries a drooping interval in triplet rhythm. The move to A minor carries its own pathos.  The second movement—Lebhaft, leicht—conveys the breezy confidence in Florestan, Schumann’s outgoing self.  In two sections, the sudden shift into F Major lifts the level of optimistic energy higher. The modes of A Major and minor compete in the emotionally charged last movement, Rasch und mit Feuer, which opens with a sense of fevered urgency. Pianist Chamayou’s triplets more than convey the intensely lyric drama of the piece, in which the Master Raro–the synthesis of Clara and Robert Schumann’s cohesive personalities–find their quintessential balance.

Schumann’s friendship with cellist Roberrt Emil Bockmuehl helped to inspire the A minor Cello Concerto, Op. 129. The woodwinds lead Gabetta into her first exposition of the main theme, which she intones with singular force.  Marked Nicht zu schnell, the music moves with luxuriant gravity and lyric sweetness. The martial element, too, has the capacity to lunge forward and sing while the horn accompanies with the opening motto. Like all late-Schumann concerted, through-composed works, a degree of obsessive repetition occurs, but the heartfelt sincerity of the music transcends the much-exploited motifs. The poetic expressivity extends to the Langsam movement. The resonance of the orchestra’s gut strings add a decided angularity and bite to the tutti passages. The last movement, Sehr Lebhaft, allows a degree of playful virtuosity into the otherwise meditative landscape, including much pert and carefully modulated workmanship from the rich cadenza that segues to the marvelous coda that ends this gratifying performance.

—Gary Lemco