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.
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.