The Strad Issue: January 2007
Musicians: Natalia Gutman (cello) Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Claudio Abbado (conductor)
Composer: Schumann, Brahms

Recorded while touring Europe with this concerto to mark the 150th anniversary of Schumann’s death last year, Natalia Gutman’s interpretation of the work is considered and stately. The long-time Rostropovich pupil seems to take the opening direction ‘Nicht zu schnell’ as a motto for the whole concerto, taking time with its expressive moments but remaining curiously earthbound.

The recording mikes the cello very closely, so that you can sometimes hear the shifts, but lacks the bite and clarity of Mischa Maisky on the same label. The inner parts are brought out strongly – the off-beat chords under the opening melody are boldly present while the principal cello’s solo line in the slow movement is as audible as the soloist’s.

It’s this Langsam movement, as moving as any I’ve heard, in which Gutman’s approach works best, employing a lot of expressive portamentos, particularly in the lingering descending perfect 5th at the beginning of the phrase. In the stormy transition between this and the last movement, her tone intensifies with effective use of rapid vibrato and there are some nice, rapid ornamental trills and spiccato bowing in the Sehr lebhaft.

Claudio Abbado draws out some bold colours from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, both here and in Brahms’s charming, multi-movement Serenade.