Cecilia Bartoli and Sol Gabetta: Dolce Duello
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Cecilia Bartoli and Sol Gabetta: "Dolce Duello"

CD Button Capella Gabetta, A. Gabetta. Music by Handel, Vivaldi, Boccherini and others. Texts and translations. Decca 483 2473

Recordings Bartoli Gabetta Cover 518

CECILIA BARTOLI has probably been pressured to record a crossover album for about thirty years. Now we finally have the closest thing we’re likely to get from her, though by this point crossover albums are over and done. Bartoli is paired here with her Decca stablemate, glamour-girl cellist Sol Gabetta, and the mezzo returns to one more aria by Vivaldi, the composer who took her to worldwide fame and astonishing CD sales in 1999. As a pledge-drive type of bonus, we also get “What passion cannot music raise and quell!,” from Handel’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day. Bartoli and Gabetta perform together a generous eight tracks, accompanied by a chamber group directed by Gabetta’s brother Andrés, then Gabetta finishes with Boccherini’s thrice-familiar Cello Concerto No. 10 in D major. 

Mezzo and cellist may record for the same label, but as musicians they don’t have anything in common. Bartoli’s interpretations, as they always have been, are the products of deep study and emotional commitment, and she reacts afresh to each piece she performs. Gabetta plays the cello the way she plays the cello. Bartoli’s approach to the weighing of color, phrasing, intonation and vibrato is lost on her instrumental colleague (though, to be fair, anybody who tries some ornamentation next to Bartoli is going to risk sounding clumsy). For example, “Son qual stanco pellegrino,” from Handel’s Arianna in Creta, shows not only how Bartoli varies her tone in response to the change in expression for the B section of the aria, as any singer learns to do, but how she finds new expression and yet more depth, color and variety for the return of the A section. Gabetta just doesn’t. The cellist is most at home in “Tanto, e con sì gran piena,” an excessively florid piece from Caldara’s Gianguir, Imperatore del Mogol, in which her hyperfacility on the instrument is more like a trick than a musical performance. It’s awe-inspiring for a time, but it doesn’t invite the listener into it as Bartoli’s live appearances always do.

Bartoli would have been better served by a duet album with the fantastic theorbo player, Eduardo Egüez, who closely shares her musical sensibility. But Dolce Duello does serve as a clear reminder that Bartoli, ever since that early Vivaldi calling card, always and with no exceptions finds what’s behind the notes. —William R. Braun 

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