Our October 2021 Session Report features an up-close look at violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja and cellist Sol Gabetta’s recording sessions for their album ‘Sol & Pat’, out today on Alpha Classics. Here, they share some of the challenges faced during the process
The following extract is from The Strad’s October 2021 issue Session Report ’Two’s Company’. To read it in full, click here to subscribe and login. The October 2021 digital magazine and print edition are on sale now
As for the sessions themselves, in 2017 they recorded the Ravel and Kodály at Saanen Church near Gstaad but this was not straightforward. ‘It was a miracle we recorded anything, because we couldn’t play for ten minutes without an interruption!’ laughs Gabetta. ‘We weren’t allowed to write on the door to say we were recording and ask people to please not come in. So, the tourists came, they admired the church, they listened to music – and we just had to hope they wouldn’t make any noise. When finally they stopped coming in, a helicopter air display started outside instead!’ Kopatchinskaja then delivers the punchline: ‘And when they stopped, somebody started to cut the grass!’
The remainder of the programme was thus recorded in 2018 in the less touristy Reformed Church in Zweisimmen. However, a crucial piece of continuity was the presence of their sound engineer, Peter Laenger, with whom Gabetta first worked when she was 19, and with whom Kopatchinskaja has regularly worked since 2014. ‘He absolutely understands our way of recording,’ states Kopatchinskaja. ‘We play, and then we talk, and then we play again, and then we talk – and he knows that. He also knows what kind of sound we like – the exact distance of the microphone from the strings.’ Asked what that sound is, Gabetta responds, ‘I wouldn’t say we’re trying to sound “nice” or “not nice”. Simply that our playing resembles speech, like spoken dialogue.’
Still, good habits dictate that at the very start of any session they listen back. ‘It’s important to check how it sounds,’ says Kopatchinskaja. ‘Once, years ago, I was making a recording and I didn’t recognise my sound during playback. It was so perfect, so beautiful – and it washorrible. It was not me. So, the engineer pressed a button and turned off a special microphone he called the “honey microphone”, and suddenly I heard my voice, with its scratches and imperfections. I said, “Yes, that’s me. Do not correct my sound.”’
Back to Sol & Pat, and the album is accompanied by a tour of various Swiss venues, London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie and the Vienna Konzerthaus, among other locations. ‘Patricia wanted to play ten more dates,’ laughs Gabetta, ‘but I was scared because you have to be physically on top of this programme. It’s very different from playing with a pianist, where the majority of the heaviest work is probably in the piano part. Our duo concerts always feel like a marathon!’
Sol & Pat is out today on Alpha Classics. The duo embark on a 14-date European tour this autumn, including performances in London, Paris, Hamburg, Brussels and Lucerne.