New York Times
Recital at the Frick Collection, New York City
The German cellist Leonard Elschenbroich is a rising star on the European concert scene. On Sunday afternoon, together with the pianist Alexei Grynyuk, he presented his New York recital debut at the Frick Collection. In a program of just three works – one Classical, one contemporary and one Romantic – Mr. Elschenbroich not only revealed himself as a musician of great technical prowess, intellectual curiosity and expressive depth but also displayed an easygoing way of communicating with an audience.
Mr. Elschenbroich and Mr. Grynyuk also regularly work together in a triothat includes the Scottish star violinist Nicola Benedetti, and their interaction came across as intuitive and purposeful. In Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 3 in A, which opened the program, there were moments when the cello was overly prominent, but the musicians may have needed time to adjust to the relatively modest sound of the Frick’s piano.
Mr. Elschenbroich’s approach sometimes seemed excessively cerebral in this piece. There was a sense that scrupulous analysis was getting in the way of musical storytelling, so that the music was broken up into a succession of carefully massaged details: In the lovely melody of the Adagio, for instance, Mr. Elschenbroich played with a different attack and vibrato on virtually every note.
It was interesting, then, to hear Mr. Elschenbroich’s remarks on the contemporary piece, “Night Music,” which he had commissioned from the British clarinetist and composer Mark Simpson. Explaining that the piece had been composed under the influence of jet lag and reflected the sense of anxiety and displacement that state can bring, Mr. Elschenbroich said that he and Mr. Grynyuk had initially struggled with “the difficulty of imposing a linear narrative” before embracing “the feeling that there are opposing things happening almost contemporaneously.”
Those words turned out to be an apt description of Mr. Simpson’s powerful and moody work, in which the opposition of lyrical melancholy and rhythmically agitated obsessive patterns was exciting. The piece capitalizes on the cello’s expressive potential while pushing it into sometimes uncomfortable territory, resulting in high, anguished outcries. The piano, too, produces unusual colors, including a sequence of high notes that sounded like metal striking glass.
In Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata, finally, that “linear narrative” gushed forth in all its emotionally compulsive flow. With Mr. Grynyuk doing heroic work with the daunting piano part, Mr. Elschenbroich gave a gripping and impassioned performance. The two brought mystery and danger to the conspiratorial Allegro scherzando and prayerful tenderness to the Adagio, with just a hint of impatience simmering beneath the surface.
Ruth Fremson, March 2015