She's not shy, this Anne-Sofie von Otter. Her performances are, to say the least, incredibly expressive. Her Suleika I (D. 720) is Brigitte Bardot in Contempt. Her Im Abendrot (D. 799) is Kim Novak in Vertigo. Her Totengräbers Heimweh is Eli Walach in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Nor is von Otter dumb. Her interpretations are sly, subtle, and very, very sensitive. Her Der Wanderer an den Mond (D. 870) is hearty and lightly but profoundly philosophical.
Nikolay Myaskovsky was one of the most prolific and influential composers in 20th-Century Russian musical life. These two works come from the beginning and end of his distinguished career: the warmly expressive First Cello Sonata recalling the style of Rachmaninov, and the equally romantic Second Cello Sonata revealing the subtle influence of folk music typical of Myaskovsky's later years. Alexander Glazunov both absorbed and continued the great Romantic lineage with his poignant Chant du Ménestrel and the Iberian evocations for the Sérénade espagnole from Two Pieces.
The two sonatas for cello and piano by Camille Saint-Saëns stand as bookends to what was an impressively long compositional career spanning more than seven decades. Much of Saint-Saëns' music for cello, including these two sonatas, has been dismissed as inferior and is rarely performed or recorded. Only the first cello concerto, often played by advanced students of the instrument, remains a common occurrence on disc or stage.
The young cellist Andreas Brantelid, often accompanied and perhaps guided by the much older Bengt Forsberg, has gained notice for sheer virtuoso chops. But in this recital covering all of Gabriel Fauré's music for cello and piano, it's his way with a sheer melody that impresses the most: the two Berceuses (cradle song), the flawless unfolding of the two sonata slow movements from simple opening material (sample that of the elegiac Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 117), the remarkable, 54-second Morceau de Lecture (originally for two cellos, and the only arranged work here). Brantelid certainly delivers a smooth performance of the popular Papillon, Op. 77, and all the music here – some of it well known, but most of it not so much – is a pleasure. Fauré was one of the few composers who had a real knack for writing for the cello and did so without complaining about it. The best is saved for last: the Andante for cello and harmonium is the original version of the opening Romance, Op. 69, and it's really an entirely different work, spooky and inward, with the harmonium contributing a unique wash of sound. The harmonium was an extremely common instrument in the second half of the 19th century, and it's good to hear a work played on the instrument for which it was intended. BIS contributes fine Swedish radio sound to this recommended cello recital.
A brief glance at the list of contents is enough to reveal who the singer is – only Anne Sofie von Otter could have come up with a programme as varied and wide-ranging. And only von Otter could hold it together seamlessly by finding the resonances between these very different pieces, and bringing them out with a rare ability of embracing different singing styles and expressive registers: to paraphrase Bernstein in his A Simple Song, Anne Sofie von Otter never fails to ‘sing like she likes to sing’.