Dolce Duello: Cecilia Bartoli and Sol Gabetta Save the Best for Last at the Barbican

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various composers, Cecilia Bartoli & Sol Gabetta: Dolce Duello: Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano), Sol Gabetta (cello), Cappella Gabetta / Andrés Gabetta (concertmaster). Barbican Hall, London, 1/12/2017. (JPr)

Decca © Esther Haase
Sol Gabetta & Cecilia Bartoli © Esther Haas

Hasse – Il Ciro riconosciuto overture
Caldara – ‘Fortuna e speranza’ (Nitocri)
Albinoni – ‘Aure andate e baciate’ (Il nascimento dell’Aurora)
Gabrielli – ‘Aure voi de’miei sospiri’ (San Sigismondo, re di Borgogna)
Pollarolo – Ariodante overture
Handel – ‘Lascia la spina cogli la rosa’ (Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno); ‘What passion cannot Music raise and quell!’ (Ode for St Cecilia’s Day)
Raupach – ‘O placido il mare’ (Siroe, re di Persia)
Boccherini – Cello Concerto No.10 in D major, G483; ‘Se d’un amor tiranno’, G557
Gluck – ‘Dance of the Furies’ (Orfeo ed Euridice)

Alexandra Coghlan’s programme note explains: ‘With its vast range, the cello challenges the human voice, pushes it to its physical limits. Leaping easily over large intervals, the instrument demands unthinkable agility from any singer if they dare even hope to match the superhuman musical force – the length of a bow, a cello’s horse-hair breath, its only restriction. What the singer offers is subtler but no less potent: a challenge to wood and strings and craftmanship to match nature’s own music, to discover the emotions and thoughts that ripple through a body that is its own instrument.’

Dolce Duello takes its title from the recent CD from Cecilia Bartoli and Sol Gabetta of a collection of Baroque arias – I hesitate to call them masterpieces – that explores an eighteenth-century fascination for musical duelling. Bartoli’s magnificent voice and Gabetta’s eloquent playing of her 1759 Guadagnini cello was supported by Cappella Gabetta under the accomplished violin of concertmaster Andrés Gabetta, Sol’s brother. Formed in 2010 and playing ‘original instruments’, Capella Gabetta – the odd rough note notwithstanding – provided a suitable showcase for Bartoli and Gabetta. On their own they provide idiomatic accounts of the overtures from Hasse’s Il Ciro riconosciuto and Pollarolo’s Ariodante, as well as and best of all, a suitably furious ‘Dance of the Furies’ from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice.

Dolce Duello included music by Johann Adolf Hasse, Antonio Caldara, Tomaso Albinoni, Domenico Gabrielli, Carlo Francesco Pollarolo, George Frideric Handel, Hermann Raupach, Luigi Boccherini, and Christoph Willibald Gluck. If hearing what beautiful sounds the human voice and the cello can make – either separately or together – then this was the concert for you. For me the baroque arias lacked sufficient drama. Typical of the musical tastes of the eighteenth-century there is much text repetition involving often increasingly florid passagework, though they can have no better interpreter than Cecilia Bartoli. However – for me – despite appreciating her talents and that of Sol Gabetta during the ‘obbligato arias’, I found it possible to succumb too readily during this programme to a sense of ennui. This was not helped by Bartoli being off the platform for about an hour (which included an extended interval) and having to sit through Boccherini’s Tenth Cello Concerto performed in its entirety. There is no doubting Gabetta’s virtuosic brilliance, but one movement would have sufficed and allowed the concert to end before 10pm.

In the arias when both were involved Gabetta’s cello proved the ideal foil for Bartoli, whether simply accompanying her, or sparring with her, or showing off separately. In ‘Se d’un amor tiranno’ – Boccherini’s exuberant lament (if there is such a thing?) – Gabetta weaved in and out of Bartoli’s remarkable vocal pyrotechnics and both celebrated their mastery of embellishment. As for Bartoli herself she seems at the height of her powers, even if her arias were carefully chosen to display her own ‘unthinkable agility’. She appeared to be having as much fun singing as the audience were listening to her, and occasionally she interacted mischievously with both Gabettas and some of the other musicians surrounding her. The first two arias set the tone what we heard throughout the concert; introduced by Gabetta’s plaintive cello, Caldara’s lament ‘Fortuna e speranza’ found Bartoli in fresh and expressive voice, and then she showed her more playful side in Albinoni’s ‘Aura andante e baciate’. She was even more affecting in Gabrielli’s ‘Aure voi de’mei sospiri’ and even more spirited in Raupach’s ‘O placido il mare’, despite not finding it quite as easy as some of the arias she was singing. Handel seems to suit Bartoli’s voice particularly well and a highlight of the concert was her serene ‘Lascia la spina cogli la rosa’ (from Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno). Subsequently she proved her English diction is excellent, when – together with Sol Gabetta’s accompaniment – she sang a meltingly beautiful ‘What passion cannot Music raise and quell!’ from Handel’s Ode for St Cecilia’s Day.

In the end it was a fascinating evening mainly because of the encores which allowed Bartoli to ‘let her hair down’; enthusiastically wielding a tambourine and swaying during the joyously upbeat ‘Seguedillas y Fandango’ by José de Nebra and later a wonderfully cheerful ‘La danza’ by Rossini. These were interspersed with the more plaintive and reflective ‘Sovente il Sole’ from Vivaldi’s Andromeda liberate and Ernesto de Curtis’s ‘Non ti scordar di me’ which was the final piece we heard. Those applauding long and loudly even after four encores will not forget this evening, but for me – as often happens – the best was only left till last.

Jim Pritchard

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