Sol Gabetta
drives BMW

Next Concert:

Tue 09.01.2018

Press

There was plenty to marvel at in the magnificent recital given on Tuesday night by the Argentine cellist Sol Gabetta — her effortless precision and grace, her rhythmic fluency, or the expansive interpretive approach she took to music built on various different scales.

But the one that I kept coming back to during Gabetta’s first local appearance, presented in Herbst Theatre by San Francisco Performances, was something more elemental. It was the sheer, gobsmacking beauty of the sound she elicits from her instrument.

No sooner had Gabetta touched bow to string for the opening phrase of Schumann’s “Fantasiestücke,” Op. 73, than the hall filled with a warm, full-bodied and resplendent glow — the sonic equivalent of walking into a kitchen where cookies have been baking. And over the remainder of the evening, in music by Brahms and Prokofiev, she revealed other, equally alluring aspects of her ability in this area.

The lower register would seem to be the chief glory of her playing, with a robust presence that never sounds forced or intimidating. But the high notes — clarion, light-breathed, packed with radiant colors — are no less enchanting, and the mid-range has its own complex of flavors and subtleties.

If beauty of tone seems like a prerequisite for artistic success, or something hardly worth noting, think again. It’s actually just one of many different tools a performing musician might have in his or her arsenal, and another cellist could stake a claim to greatness on a different constellation of gifts.

Still, to hear the cello played with the kind of gorgeous fluidity that Gabetta commands is not only a sinful pleasure in its own right. It also opens up a host of interpretive options for her, like a painter working from a vast palette of colors. [...]

With its low center of gravity and broad-beamed rhetoric, the Brahms Sonata made a perfect vehicle for Gabetta’s artistry. She luxuriated in the weightiness of the first movement’s low-slung main theme, giving it a sense of ominous clarity, but then contrasted it with a more light-bodied account of the countertheme.

She and Bax collaborated to bring nimble wit to the central scherzo, and infused the finale with a feeling of spaciousness and vigor. The result was one of the most persuasive accounts I’ve heard of this work.

Gabetta proved no less impressive in music that requires hard thinking and tough choices. Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata, written near the end of his life for the young Mstislav Rostropovich, is a formal obstacle course for performer and listener alike — darting here and there, making decisions and then going back on them, pursuing what seem like tangents only to rationalize them in retrospect.

Yet it all made perfect sense on this occasion, helped along by the boldness and sensitivity of Gabetta’s playing. The evening concluded with a rapturously played encore, Chopin’s Etude in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 25, No. 7, in an arrangement by Glazunov.

Gabetta has acquired a growing reputation elsewhere, in appearances with symphony orchestras and through her recordings for Deutsche Grammophon. It was past time for her to hit the Bay Area; kudos to San Francisco Performances for finally making that happen.

- San Francisco Chronicle, Joshua Kosman, 16.11.2016