GRIEG Cello Sonata GRAINGER Scandinavian Suite
Grieg’s 1882/83 Cello Sonata was premiered by the composer accompanying Friedrich Grützmacher (the cellist who made up Boccherini concertos). It has remained a regular calling point in a not huge Romantic repertoire for the instrument, although its emotional directness and relative formal simplicity have not pleased all commentators. (A past review in this journal even dismissed the work as ‘melodrama’ – 12/09.) The programming alongside it here is intelligent and logical. Grainger’s Suite is a set of musical postcards from Norway, Denmark and Sweden (the last including a tune later made famous by Stan Getz), written for a Danish cellist (like Brantelid) with whom he performed Grieg’s Sonata.
The quite magical spring in the step of these new performances comes from that unique-seeming ‘Nordic’ balance and understanding between accompanying instruments shared by Brantelid and his young Norwegian partner, and from how BIS has recorded them at Suffolk’s Potton Hall. Neither in the Sonata nor in Grainger’s Suite does the piano dominate or rival the soloist as it tends to do in more mainstream European performances. Sample, for example, the recording of the Sonata (one of two) made by the Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk, originally for Virgin, where Jean-Yves Thibaudet, no less, tries from the word go to make his decorated accompaniment primus inter pares. Never so here with Hadland; nor in the Grainger, where Hamish Milne’s generous Chandos performance has almost concerto-like balance. Brantelid is certainly virtuoso – try the cadenza-like passages and, indeed, the Allegro finale of the Sonata in general. He also finds a lovely colour for his instrument as it imitates the Halling-style fiddle leading the dance. But he never swamps the essential melodic simplicity of the music with misleadingly compensatory colour. Hugely recommended – and don’t ignore the Andante con moto, an orphaned movement from an abandoned Piano Trio.