The Strad Issue: January 2016
Description: Natalia Gutman, friends and family in live Moscow recordings
Musicians: Natalia Gutman (cello) Oleg Kagan (violin) USSR State Academic SO/Yevgeny Svetlanov, Alexander Lazarev
Composer: Brahms, Prokofiev

Natalia Gutman has everything going for her except a large tone, and on record this deficiency can be offset. In these big, bold live performances from the Grand Hall of Moscow Conservatoire in 1981, she is placed quite forwards, although the orchestra still packs a punch.

Aged about 39, she sounds as if she has played Prokofiev’s leviathan all her life, summoning up athletic toughness when needed. Lower orchestral strings are sonorous at the start and Lazarev sets a fastish Andante – all to the good. Gutman responds to the Allegro giusto with panache and virtuosic bowing; slower sections are inwardly played, with tonal variety; orchestral outbursts are fearsome; and a coruscating cadenza leads to further fruitful fast and slow explorations. She attacks her entry in the Andante con moto with vim, and again alternates lovely cantabile with virtuosity. This is the best I have heard from Gutman.

She and her late husband, Oleg Kagan, equally light-toned, revel most in the opportunities for lyrical outpouring provided by Brahms. Tempos are broader than ideal; and although Svetlanov deploys his grand manner and ethereal pianissimo, he dons hobnail boots for the finale. There is much to enjoy here, but the Busch brothers and Kletzki (Guild Historical) offer a more Brahmsian live version.