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“Don Quixote & Cello Works”
Richard Strauss: Sonata for Cello and Piano in F major, opus 6, TrV 115 – Romanze for Cello and Orchestra in F major, opus 13, TrV 118 – Don Quixote: Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character, opus 35, TrV 184 – Vier Lieder, opus 27, TrV 170

Ophélie Gaillard (cello), Alexandra Conunova (violin), Dov Scheindlin (viola), Vassilis Varvaresos (piano), Beatrice Uria-Monzon (mezzo-soprano), Czech National Symphony Orchestra, Julien Masmondet (conductor)
Recording: CNSO Studios, Prague, Czech Republic and Paris, France (July 2017 and January 2018) – 79’24
Aparte Music AP174 – Booklet in French, English and German (Distributed by PIAS)

An amalgam of modernism and Romanticism, Richard Strauss’ music provides imageries of endless spectacle and lasting impression. Furthermore, the cello is one of those instruments seldom spotlighted by a composer detailing in such clarity. Enter Ophélie Gaillard, a contemplative cellist who wrestled with Strauss’ public persona and created a partial blockade to the music. Her unique peregrination and evolutionary processes help one understand her determined, deeply persuasive transcription of these œuvres.

In reading Ophélie Gaillard’s narrative, one senses her love of literature and ability to uncover the beauty of Strauss in candid fashion. The pièce maîtresse is carried inside the symphonic poem, Don Quixote, whereby we’re drawn into Mlle. Gaillard’s transitional journey in a grounding of Kabbalah exegesis via the acronym, PaRDeS. Dominique Aubier’s encoding [thoughts] alongside perspectives of rabbi/philosopher Marc-Alain Ouaknin enlarge the listener’s awareness inside these variations fantastiques. What’s revealed is a whole new world of musical methodology, and in doing so, we learn through the cellist’s hands a discovery of esoteric outreach.

Aside from the “Introduction” and “Finale”, Strauss was keen on dismissing any sort of chronological sequence within the body of the work. While this may initially appear disruptive to those aligned with orderliness, Don Quixote moves through each of the “variations” without timidity. We don’t encounter the cello until the thematic chapter, an outline of the errant knight’s doleful countenance. Making sense of each of the tableaux brings us back to the covert acrostic PaRDes and its hidden musical equations.

Ophélie Gaillard is not shy about demonstrating rawness and refinement. There’s power in the bow that reaches into the soul of humor and eccentricity: stern approaches within “The Adventure within the Process of Penitents” [Variation IV], legato moodiness and wariness (“Don Quixote’s Vigil” [Variation V]) and the cinematic dynamism found when landing upon the Knight during the “Joust of the Bright Moon” [Variation X.] The most episodic footprint emphatically points to “The Death of Don Quixote” [Variation XI] where one is intoxicated by Straussian pathos, made irresistible by Mlle. Gaillard...instantaneously, time freezes and we succumb to such magic in the music. Sublime.

There actually is a logical timeline progression on this Aparte Music CD: we first hear the Sonata for Cello and Piano which was completed in 1883. Even though Richard Strauss completed this work at age 19, it shows a tremendous amount of maturity and sophistication. The enhancement of cello points toward the marriage of piano which gives the composition an understated conversant dialogue. Vassilis Varvaresos teases away at the keyboard, giving balance to the entire opus. The energetic parsing of phrases within the “Allego con brio” gives way to a more mollified “Andante” with cello gravity and anchored in somberness. This segment gives wide berth for Ophélie Gaillard to formalize her diction, melding cello and piano in a platonic balance of energy. Convincing, yes...it soothes, yet it’s trumped by a pined longing. Returning, M. Varvaresos pricks away at piano in an interaction [with Gaillard’s cello] of plucky elfin attitude upon the “Allegro” conclusion. Momentum builds and the entire piece generates absolute satisfaction.

The aforementioned conveyance cleanly segues into the Romanze of the same key. In turn, this sets itself up for a pleasant sojourn. One is entranced by this mellifluous music filled with stately passages. Anticipations of Der Rosenkavalier surmount this highly approachable piece. In this instance, however, we witness an echoing of adroit conversations from the Czech National Symphony Orchestra under meticulous care of Julien Masmondet. Sentimentality overflows.

Ophélie Gaillard’s performance wouldn’t be complete without paying homage to Richard Strauss by way of vocal outreach. She chooses to hone in on Vier Lieder, particularly the Morgen lied (first version) that includes the cello. Paired with mezzo-soprano Beatrice Uria-Monzon, this lyrical/instrumental interaction sizes up to be a highly emotional backdrop as it elicits a sort of “swan song” since Richard Strauss died a year after its debut in 1948. One can see why Mlle. Gaillard engenders a respectful tribute to the wonders of the beloved German.

Ophélie Gaillard is to be lauded on all fronts. Highly persuasive and highly evocative.

Christie Grimstad




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