Gabetta and Chamayou prove simpatico partners in Celebrity Series recital

November 3, 2016 at 11:37 am

By Aaron Keebaugh

Sol Gabetta and Bertrand Chamayou performed Wednesday night at Pickman Hall for the Celebrity Series. Photo: Robert Torres

Sol Gabetta and Bertrand Chamayou performed Wednesday night at Pickman Hall for the Celebrity Series. Photo: Robert Torres

The sound of the cello is unique among string instruments, and its best advocates frequently draw connections between the instrument’s timbre and that of the human voice.

For Argentine cellist Sol Gabetta, that connection is personal. When she began studying the instrument at the age of four she was taken with how it seemed to embody the qualities of all the vocal ranges, from whispering soprano down to dusky bass. She was instantly hooked. “People often ask me why I chose the cello,” she recalled in a recent article for the Guardian. “The answer is simple: in fact, the cello chose me.”

The 35-year-old musician’s star is on the rise. Recent years have witnessed appearances with the Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, National Orchestra of France, and New York’s Mostly Mozart Festival. Wednesday night at Pickman Hall, Gabetta made her Celebrity Series debut in a recital that featured sonatas by Beethoven, Chopin, and Britten.

Works such as these are duets at the core and require a pianist of fine technical skill and probing musicality. French pianist Bertrand Chamayou provided both.

In the opener, Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 1 in F major, Gabetta and Chamayou played with a crisp articulation that captured the crystalline brilliance of the late-classical style. The sonata, written in 1796, was one of the first works in the duo genre to feature cello and piano as equal partners. Gabetta and Chamayou played in a sensitive partnership, shading the phrases of the slow opening of the first movement with warm, singing tone and freedom of expression. Overall, theirs was a dramatic and colorful reading, with Gabetta’s tone sounding deep and smoky, Chamayou’s fruity and eloquent.

The second movement was a study in contrasts. The musicians performed the Mozartean first theme with requisite grace and floated tender melodies between each other with gentle hints of rubato in the contrasting second theme. The third movement had equal parts lilting grace and furious drive, particularly in the difficult passagework that took Gabetta all over the fingerboard of her instrument. Her tone, too, took on a slight edge well suited to Beethoven’s aggressive style. With bold precision, the duo closed the piece with rapt intensity.

Lyricism marked the musicians’ performance of Britten’s Cello Sonata, Op. 65. The work is a colorful exploration of both piano and cello sonorities and filled with the bristly modernisms so characteristic of the composer’s style. In Wednesday’s performance, the fragmentary melodies of the opening movement were subtly shaped and imbued with rich, vocal-like timbres. Chamayou’s accompanying chords rang like a crystal goblet. Elsewhere, the performance captured a playful humor. The pizzicato statements of the Scherzo had sprightly delicacy. The March and concluding movements bristled with Shostakovichian wit. Most beautiful was the third movement’s Elegy. Searching and deeply affecting, Gabetta’s melodies had a lace of silver tone that blossomed to shimmering intensity in the full passages.

The second half of the program was dedicated to Chopin’s Cello Sonata in G minor. The work is a marvel of classical form, but melody abounds, and the duo brought a warm radiance to their performance. Here, Gabetta’s tone took on a rich, vocal timbre well suited to Chopin’s aria-like writing. Chamayou answered with sensitive phrasing in the cascading piano figures.

The outer movements were dynamic, with the music rolling like waves on a stormy sea. The dance-like Scherzo twirled about in place. The highlight of the evening, though, came in the third movement, which had the pearly depths of one of Chopin’s Nocturnes. Phrasing was spacious and the long lines of the melody unfurled like thread. It’s a beautiful movement, and Gabetta and Chamayou gave it an affecting performance. 

The next Celebrity Series program will feature pianist Imogen Cooper in music by Janácek, Schumann, De Falla, Debussy, and Albéniz 8 p.m. Saturday at Jordan Hall.; 617- 482-6661.

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