The world is awash with great cello playing lately, and any newcomer to the field has an extremely difficult task competing with an already crowded field. Making his recording debut on this EMI release is Scandinavian cellist Andreas Brantelid, performing Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme, and concerti by Robert Schuman and Camille Saint-Saens. It's very familiar music--the Saint-Saens is unquestionably the most performed work for cello and orchestra--and debuting such well-known music is a mark of either confidence or idiocy. I was skeptical when I saw the repertoire, but with his opening phrase Brantelid put all my skepticism to rest. He's an astounding player with a fantastic emotional range matched by technical perfection--his appointment as the Danish Broadcasting Corporation's Artist of the Year is well deserved. The verve with which he attacks the opening of the Saint-Saens can't fail to excite. I've heard this same piece played so often so badly that I am keenly aware of it's many pitfalls--the technical demands make many cellists back off the tempo or sacrifice intonation or tone quality--but Brantelid plays as if they don't exist.
There's such an attention to color, to dynamic and shape that each note is given beautiful attention. I'm wildly enthusiastic about Andreas Brantelid's playing, and those of you who have been following my reviews know THAT doesn't happen often! In fact, Brantelid has made me reconsider Tchaikovsky's Variations, a piece that has not particularly endeared itself to me even in a live performance by Yo-yo Ma. Ma seemed to emphasize the Rococo-ness of the piece, but Brantelid emphasizes the Tchaikovsky-ness of it, and to superior effect, in my opinion. Accompanying Brantelid is the Danish National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Schenwandt, who match the young virtuoso's enthusiasm and finesse beautifully. I often wonder why record companies bother to release so many recordings of the same warhorses, but in this case the answer is clear. Andreas Brantelid's debut CD is a must-have!