December 4, 2023
To sing with the strings. Sol Gabetta and Bertrand Chamayou have recorded a new Mendelssohn Project for Sony Classical.
Following on from their recordings of all the works for cello and piano by Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann, Sol Gabetta and Bertrand Chamayou are continuing their exploration of the Romantic repertoire for cello and piano with all the works that Felix Mendelssohn wrote for this combination of instruments.
Mendelssohn’s works have for many years been central to the repertoire of both Sol Gabetta and Bertrand Chamayou. In the course of his short life Mendelssohn wrote a total of five works for this combination of instruments, beginning with his Variations concertantes op. 17, which he composed in 1829 for his cello-playing brother, and ending with his famous Chanson sans paroles op. 109, which he dedicated to the French cellist Lise Cristiani in 1845. Between these works come the two great Cellos Sonatas opp. 45 and 58 of 1838 and 1843, the first in B♭ major, the second in D major, and the rarely performed and mysterious Assai tranquillo from 1838. In short Mendelssohn took an interest in works for cello and piano throughout his creative life, allowing us to trace the whole of his stylistic development by reference to the individual works that he wrote for this combination of instruments.
As was the case with their earlier Schumann album, cellist and pianist have opted to record these works on historical instruments in order to capture Mendelssohn’s musical language as authentically as possible and to achieve the best tonal balance between the two instruments. Both instruments were chosen specifically for this recording and are the famous Bonamy Dobrée-Suggia cello made by Stradivari in 1717 and strung with gut strings, and a historical concert grand made by Julius Blüthner in Leipzig in 1856.
In order to provide Mendelssohn’s historical works with a poetic modern counterpart, Sol Gabetta has invited four outstanding composers from our own day to compose their own personal Songs Without Words for cello and piano. They are Heinz Holliger (*1939), Wolfgang Rihm (*1952), Jörg Widmann (*1973) and Francisco Coll (*1985). All four were keen to take part in this project, with the result that the present album includes not only the five pieces by Mendelssohn but also four new works that are being heard for the first time here. “Formally speaking, a Song Without Words is always a miniature art form,” says Sol Gabetta. “What I found particularly inspiring was to work on this form with four living composers.” These contemporary works were recorded on a cello by Matteo Goffriller with steel strings and on a modern concert grand by Steinway & Sons.
These four new works have not previously appeared on CD. All are tributes to Mendelssohn and all are very different from one another. Heinz Holliger wrote three Songs Without Words for this project, picking up from and continuing an earlier project involving a set of similarly-titled works for violin and piano. Wolfgang Rihm’s Song Without Words consists of two independent songs devoted initially to the word and then to the song. Towards the end the piece dies away in silence, a silence in which listeners may think that they can hear a distant echo of Mendelssohn. Jörg Widmann has described his new Song Without Words as a “homage and a tribute to Mendelssohn as the master of this form”. And Francisco Coll’s Dialogue Without Words is a conversation that brings together the two personalities of Sol Gabetta and Bertrand Chamayou, personalities that are lyrical and at the same time intense.
With their new album Sol Gabetta and Bertrand Chamayou provide impressive proof of the actuality of Mendelssohn’s music.
Their double alum will be released by Sony Classical on 19 January 2024 both on CD and in a digital format.