Review: Cellist Andreas Brantelid at the Phillips Collection

Danish cellist Andreas Brantelid had only met pianist Gloria Chien the night before their recital together at the Phillips Collection on Sunday — but you’d never know it from the caliber of their performance. Brantelid, a rising star with a light touch and a gift for limpid, poetic phrasing, seemed to find a natural partnership with Chien throughout the afternoon, in a program that built from Schubert Lite to the elusive atmospherics of Debussy to a sweeping, big-boned sonata by Edvard Grieg.

Schubert’s “Arpeggione” sonata, D. 821, is not, by any stretch, a work of stormy Romanticism; a cloud or two drifts through its azure skies, and that’s about it. But it’s awash in songlike beauty, and Brantelid brought it off with a kind of tenderness and unhurried sincerity that allowed the natural lyricism of the music to unfold. He took a more sensuous approach to Debussy’s dreamlike Sonata for cello and piano from 1915, bringing a precise touch to its chimerical sonorities and strange, perfumed savagery.

(Sussie Ahlburg/Handout) - Andreas Brantelid.

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For all the charm and rich expressiveness of his playing, though, Brantelid never seemed to quite set the room on fire — until he reached the final work of the afternoon, Grieg’s Sonata in A minor. It’s a work of soaring, chest-bursting emotions, and Brantelid and Chien turned in a robust and exuberant reading, full of the sense of limitless space that Grieg seems to evoke. It won him a standing ovation, a fine end to the Washington debut of a gifted cellist not yet out of his 20s.

Brookes is a freelance writer.

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