Shostakovich, Cello Sonata No. 1, S. Gabetta, Munich Philharmonic, L. Maazel (2012)
Schumann, Violin Concerto / Cello Concerto (arr.), J. Storgårds (soloist), Tampere Philharmonic, L. Segerstam (1996)
One of the hallmarks of the Christoph Eschenbach era at the NSO, the programming of great pieces for the first time in the orchestra's history, was again in evidence, with the belated debut of Benjamin Britten's Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge (op. 10, from 1937). It is a daring and precocious piece, last heard from the chamber orchestra A Far Cry last year, with each variation a free-standing miniature in a new mimicked style -- with each one, the 20-something Britten seems to say, "Look what else I can do!" This performance, not the most polished perhaps, highlighted each of these styles with brashness (the March, the Moto Perpetuo, the forceful Funeral March) or luscious sound quality (the Adagio, the fine Romance) or delight in rhythm (the Bourrée classique, with its Paganini-ish solo by concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef, and the Viennese waltz, filtered through several different types of nostalgia).
Cellist Sol Gabetta certainly had moxie to come to Washington with Shostakovich's first cello concerto (E-flat major, op. 107), a piece written for former NSO music director and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. (Heinrich Schiff was the last to do so, in 2007.) We had to miss Gabetta's NSO debut in 2008, which included the farewell concert for departing music director Leonard Slatkin, but she had a pleasing way with this rather sardonic piece, biting into the crunchy rhythms of the first movement with weight, if not always that extra degree of snarl high on the A string at the climaxes. Storgårds and the NSO gave an appropriate roughness to the orchestral part in the first movement, going with Gabetta in a sort of choked-up sound in the lyrical second movement, which felt a little caught in the throat emotionally, with little happy moments sounding as if from a music box toward the end. The horn solos, the only brass sound in the unusual orchestration, were rather fine, and many other remarkable moments shone, like the grotesque low woodwind sounds in the first movement and the celesta solo that mirrored the near-flawless harmonics from Gabetta in the second movement. Gabetta did not quite hold my ear captivated over the course of the very long cadenza that leads to the finale, which was not as compelling as it should be, and it felt like she hit her dynamic ceiling in the third movement when there was still room to soar.
Anne Midgette, John Storgards leads NSO in fine tribute to Benjamin Britten (Washington Post, November 8)
Felix Stephan, Cellistin Sol Gabetta ist eine virtuose Managerin (Berliner Morgenpost, October 23)
David Kettle, Classical review: RSNO, Edinburgh (The Scotsman, October 14)
This performance will be repeated tonight (November 9, 8 pm) in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. ADDENDUM: If you go tonight, applaud vigorously after the concerto, because Gabetta apparently had an encore ready to go, which we did not hear on Friday.