Laura Van Der Heijden’s New CD Tops Among Crowded Cello Releases

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It just got a whole load tougher out there for young cellists.

The first release batch of the New Year contains no fewer than four cello-piano recitals, all of them estimable. In a shrinking media environment, none will get the full-length attention they deserve. The best I can do here is short Schrift.

A performance of the Brahms cello sonatas by Jean-Guihen Qeueyras and Alexandre Tharaud (Erato **) is rather too Aimez-vous Brahms for my liking. The French accent is extremely pronounced.

The Swiss cellist Lionel Cottet, principal with Bavarian Radio SO, has what appears to be a debut album on Sony with the Mexican pianist Jorge Viladoms (**). It’s an amiable mix of French and South American composers with the late Debussy sonata incongruously at the heart of it. A sombre meditation by Ginastera stops time in its tracks, but do they really need to play Massenet’s outworn sole and another Saint-Saens Swan?

Edgar Moreau, the frontrunner in young French cellists, offers an uncommon potpourri with pianist David Kadouch on Erato (**). The opening piece is an 1898 rarity Titus et Bérénice by Rita Strohl – hands up if you’ve heard of her – and it offers a genteel introduction to Poulenc’s substantial sonata of 1940. César Franck’s violin sonata does not sit easily on the cello, especially at about half the given tempo and remaining pieces are mere morceaux.

Album of the week is, outstandingly, a record debut by BBC Young Musician winner Laura Van Der Heijden with pianist Petr Limonov (Champs Hill ****). Themed to the year 1948, when Stalin launched his assault on musicians, it presents starkly contrasting sonatas by Prokofiev and Miaskovsky, buttressed by lighter works of Yuri Shaporin and the 19th century Anatoly Liadov. Van Der Heijden refuses to prettify the grim circumstances in her playing, though she can do tender when required. These are serious, adult interpretations, properly considered and ready to contend with the best in the field.

That said, there’s a debut coming up from Laura’s BBC successor Sheku Kanneh-Mason, and Deutsche Grammophon have the young French cellist Camille Thomas up their sleeve.

It’s getting tougher out there by the week.

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Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review.

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