Peter Quantrill visits London’s Royal Festival Hall on 24 October 2019
Sol Gabetta has had the First Cello Concerto of Shostakovich in her repertoire for some years, and her reading of it has evolved over that time into a much more capricious piece. Her interpretation felt shaped by her historically informed investigations into repertoire before Haydn.
Accordingly the first movement was projected with low, gruff humour but also a contained bow that received sympathetic support from the Philharmonia. Gabetta kept the long Moderato on the move, underlining the main theme’s passacaglia-like qualities of simplicity and severity. She untangled the tortuous cadenza in self-effacing fashion, finding a Spanish quality to its strummed soliloquies.
She also brought a novel angle to the finale – without sending it up – as a parade or suite of Russian dances. But better was to come: a transcription of Lensky’s Aria from Eugene Onegin, done as an encore, in which Gabetta lived and almost sang every word with her bow. In some ways a model of restraint, restricted to the G and D strings and only jumping the octave for the last phrase, she captured every twist of the poet’s regret as he muses on spent youth and a life turned sour, with a sudden memory of unfulfilled love its only, hopeless consolation. Her performance sent me scurrying back to her 2008 album of transcriptions, affecting in its way, but no – you had to be there.