Monday, 12 February 2018

Cello joy as Soltani's debut hits the shelves


Kian Soltani and Aaron Pilsan

Deutsche Grammophon

You know what it’s like: you wait ages for a brilliant cello album to come your way and then suddenly there’s a queue.

The 2012 BBC Young Musician winner, Laura van der Heijden, released her first album in the last days of 2017 (I’ll be looking at this another time), while the recording debut of the 2016 champion, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, arrived at the start of this month.

And now we have Home, the debut of Kian Soltani, the winner of the 2013 International Paulo Cello Competition.

The idea behind Home is to weave together Kian’s roots. Born and brought up in Austria, of Iranian parents, the programme reflects this.

We open with Arpeggione, one of the most famous pieces by Schubert, a composer for whom the cellist has a particular fondness, and a work demanding virtuosity.

After the three movements of that, Schubert’s Nacht und Träume concludes the Classical section of this album, before we head into the Romantic era and Schumann – another Austrian composer with whom Soltani feels a particular affinity.

Schumman originally wrote Zart und mit Ausdruck, Lebhaft, leicht and Rasch und mit Feuer as a three-movement work, Fantasy Pieces for Clarinet and Piano – while also stipulating that cello or violin could replace the former.

More Schumann follows, before we move into a new work.

Seven Persian Folk Songs comprises seven pieces, ranging from the poetic to the ferocious. Written by Iranian composer Reza Vali for Soltani and dedicated it to him, it provides a fascinating contrast to the first parts of the album.

Some critics reject Persian symphonic music – also known as Persian polyphonic music and generally written by Persian/Iranian composers for Western ensembles and orchestras – because of the differences between Persian and Western scales.

However, composers have found ways to solve the questions these differences ask and Vali’s ability to do this is part of why the resulting work is so fascinating in its melding of different musical cultures, which leaves us with both familiarity and yet something different and challenging.

The album concludes with Iranian Fire Dance, a composition by the cellist himself.

In effect, the Persian/Iranian works add a philosophical complexity to the album as a whole, since in combining the traditional with the new, they add a wider sense of ‘home’ that’s more in keeping with the philosophical complexity of the German concept  of‘Heimat’ than any straightforward understanding of the word.

It adds a musical note too to current debates around migration, integration and cultural fusion.

Kian is a protegée of Anne-Sophie Mutter and Daniel Barenboim – he has been a member of the former’s Virtuosi as well as a member of the latter’s West-Eastern-Divan-Orchestra and is also a member of the newly-founded Boulez-Ensemble.

The Schubert here is exquisite, with a lightness that almost defies belief. The Schumann takes us into more melancholy, contemplative terrain, while the Vali ensures we don’t lapse into easy listening mode.

Throughout, Soltani’s playing is simply superb, with tremendous range of tone and emotion. And enjoying equal billing is pianist Aaron Pilsan, whose playing is every bit a match for his compatriot.

Quite simply, this is a wonderful release that reinforces the variety and beauty of the cello – and also  adds to a growing sense of how blessed we are in seeing such a number of superb young musicians rising up in front of us.

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