Gramophone – Editor’s Choice

There’s little in Beethoven’s output that’s undervalued but I have the sense that the cello sonatas don’t quite get the respect they deserve. The pair of Op 5 show the young composer flexing his creative muscles in vast sonata structures that teem with ideas and incident; Op 69 is a veritable melodic feast; and Op 102’s two are wondrously weird.

In Leonard Elschenbroich and Alexei Grynyuk’s hands, these sonatas’ staggering invention is impossible to ignore. The musicians’ success comes, at least in part, from scrupulous attention to the composer’s markings in matters of dynamics and articulation. Listen to the expectant hush with which they play the beginning of Op 5 No 1 – and note, too, how Elschenbroich sneaks into a crescendo so it seems to come out of nowhere. Or turn to the opening Andante of Op 102 No 1, rendered with such rapt yearning that it sounds as if it’s being dreamily improvised.

Dynamic contrasts are starkly defined throughout, further sharpening musical characterisations. They wring every last ounce of drama from the central Allegro molto of Op 5 No 2, for example, and although they play both repeats, there’s no slackening of tension or feeling of protraction. I was particularly riveted by the cellist’s fervid phrasing in the repeat of the development section (at 9’05”), where he digs in even deeper than the first time around. His sound isn’t especially plummy – there’s a slight (and, I think, endearing) nasal quality to it – but his legato is seamless and he’s not shy about roughing up his tone when called for, as in the two Trios of Op 69’s Scherzo.

Indeed, Elschenbroich and Grynyuk find a wealth of textural variety in these sonatas. Grynyuk’s touch can be astonishingly delicate and is unfailingly articulate. I love the rhythmic buoyancy both musicians bring to the rondos of Op 5 No 2 and Op 69 – whose ebullience borders on the giddy – and by Op 102 No 2’s concluding Allegrofugato, where they step lightly and with unfailing grace through exceptionally intricate polyphony.

They can drive the music hard in fast movements, although their playing always breathes naturally. In a few places, I feel the breaths between thematic sections are held a hair too long. And in the slender slow introduction to Op 69’s finale their phrasing feels a bit fussy when heard alongside, say, Rostropovich and Richter (Philips, 4/95).

Unlike many other recordings of the complete sonatas, Elschenbroich and Grynyuk eschew the sets of variations, offering instead a delightful account of the Horn Sonata in an arrangement likely made by the composer himself. The balance between the instruments ever so slightly favours the piano, and in some forte passages I wish the cello had greater presence. But this is a very minor complaint in the face of such superb music-making.

Andrew Farach-Colton, June 2017


The Guardian

Brian Elias Cello Concerto world premiere at the BBC Proms

The totally new music had come from Brian Elias, however. His Cello Concerto was written for Natalie Clein, but illness had forced her to withdraw from the concert two weeks earlier. was the replacement, and he played the challenging solo part with such authority and commitment it was hard to believe he’d had such a short time in which to absorb it. It’s a genuinely rewarding work, in four substantial movements which are intricately laced together thematically. The cello writing seems thoroughly idiomatic too, always aware of what cellos can do best, while Elias’s orchestration is tactful enough to ensure that the soloist is always in charge of the musical argument.

Andrew Clements, August 2017


Chicago Tribune

Brahms Double Concerto, Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Christoph Eschenbach, Ravinia Festival

Eschenbach has generously provided solo opportunities at Ravinia for up-and-coming young European instrumentalists, and the Brahms concerto found him collaborating with two more such rising stars, violinist Nicola Benedetti and cellist Leonard Elschenbroich. The Scottish-born Benedetti was making her CSO debut, while the German Elschenbroich was returning for his second Ravinia summer, having made his U.S. and CSO debuts here in 2010, also under Eschenbach’s baton.

No worries about Benedetti or Elschenbroich being uncomfortable with each other, since both perform regularly as part of a trio with pianist Alexei Grynyuk. In fact, all three had appeared in that capacity the previous evening at Ravinia. The ease with which each soloist completed the other’s musical sentences brought a sense of shared purpose, particularly to the soaring lyricism of the slow movement. Not even lusty sonic competition from the park’s resident cicada chorus could throw them off.
If the cellist emerged as the dominant partner, that was because his deep, burnished sound and sensitive response to the rhapsodic pull of the long Brahmsian lines proved to be so commanding.

John von Rhein, July 2012


Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Schumann Cello Concerto
Museumsorchester Frankfurt / Dmitri Kitajenko
Alte Oper, Frankfurt

Für Robert Schumanns gesangvolles Konzert für Violoncello und Orchester a-Moll op. 129 war er [Dmitrij Kitajneko] ohnehin ein denkbar geeigneter Partner, der den Orchestersatz in sehr enger Verzahnung mit dem wunderschön aufblühenden Solopart des jungen Frankfurter Cellisten Leonard Elschenbroich gestaltete. EIschenbroich -einst Stipendiat der Menuhin School in London und zudem nachhaltig von Anne-Sophie Mutter unterstützt -gestaltete das Wetk wie aus einem Guss mit vollkommener Ruhe und souveraner Gelassenheit.

March, 2013


The Telegraph (CD of the Week)

Kabalevsky/Prokofiev, ONYX

“A recording artist in the 21st century has in a sense become redundant,” Leonard Elschenbroich claims in his notes to this disc. “Everything has been recorded countless times; everything is available, everywhere. So one faces the choice of recording yet another version of a masterwork of the standard repertoire, or something that is not quite as good but of interest because it is different, because it is new, rare or otherwise distinctive.”

Since classical music is all about interpretation and the insights that artists bring to it, we might deferentially disagree with Elschenbroich. We might also be attracted to this recording because we want to hear what such a talented cellist has to say about Prokofiev and Kabalevsky.

Elschenbroich is especially keen to rehabilitate Kabalevsky’s Second Cello Concerto, which he maintains has been unfairly neglected because of Kabalevsky’s loyalty to the political straight-and-narrow in the Soviet Union. The concerto is not exactly a stranger to the catalogue, but Elschenbroich’s performance, recorded at concerts in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw in February, makes a highly distinguished addition to an emotionally multifaceted work. By 1964, when the concerto was written, the Soviet Union’s artistic climate had become less repressive than it had been when the first was composed in the immediate aftermath of the 1948 condemnations of composers for not following the true Socialist Realist path.
If the First Concerto is light and sunny, the second is darker, more emotionally searching. It does not turn its back on brilliance, but there is something more equivocal, intriguing and nervous about the bravura and certainly an inward-looking intensity to the slower music with which the concerto starts and finishes. Elschenbroich, with Andrew Litton and the Netherlands Philharmonic, captures the fluctuating moods perceptively and with striking immediacy and depth of feeling.
Elsewhere on the disc Elschenbroich and the pianist Alexei Grynyuk give a powerful performance of Prokofiev’s late Cello Sonata, and, accompanied by Petr Limonov, Elschenbroich plays a lyrical Kabalevsky Novelette and three Prokofiev miniatures. It’s just as well he doesn’t feel himself to be redundant.

Geoffrey Norris, November 2014


Spiegel Online

Rachmaninov/Shostakovich, ONYX

Wenn nur alles so üppig sprießen würde wie der Nachwuchs an Cello-Solisten! Wer in dieser Champions League mitspielen will, muss sich allerdings schnell profilieren, da die Literatur für Cello solo nicht unendlich vorhanden ist. Der 1985 in Frankfurt geborene Cellist Leonard Elschenbroich punktete 2009 beim Schleswig-Holstein Musikfestival und gewann dort den Bernstein-Preis. Sein Paarlauf mit Anne-Sophie Mutter im Brahms-Doppelkonzert unter Christoph Eschenbachs Leitung überzeugte, der junge Mann wuchs zu einem international angesehenen Virtuosen heran. CDs von ihm gibt es noch nicht viele, aber seine neue Veröffentlichung mit russischer Kammermusik bestätigt den Ruf von Elschenbroichs elegantem Celloton.

Die Sonate op. 19 von Sergej Rachmaninow bietet diesem Ton nun beste Entfaltungsmöglichkeiten. Kleine Reibereien inbegriffen: Man hört dem Klavierpart hier jederzeit an, dass der Komponist selbst als prankenfester Tastentitan unterwegs war. Der Cellist muss schon selbstbewusst zugreifen und einen sicheren Strich gegen die Wucht des Pianos aufbieten. Elschenbroich antwortet nicht mit Gewalt, sondern mit sanglichem, biegsamen Ton – was zu einer ungemein packenden Symbiose aus Sentiment und Kraft wie im dramatischen Allegro scherzando der Sonate führt. Mehr als nur einen Begleitpart spielt der auftrumpfende Alexei Grynyuk (seit einigen Jahren schon mit Elschenbroich aktiv), der die eloquenten Linien von Rachmaninows Klaviersatz pointiert herausarbeitet: Beide profitieren von diesem Teamwork. Ergebnis: Sieg in vier munteren Sätzen, bis hin zum beseelt perlenden Allegro mosso.

Kraftvoller Rachmaninow
Als nettes Bonbon überrascht die Bearbeitung von DmitriSchostakowitschs Viola-Sonate op. 147, die der russische Cellist Daniil Shafran (1923-1997) für sein Instrument besorgt hat. Elschenbroich schreibt darüber interessant in den Liner Notes zu seiner CD, die mit ihrer Dezenz und Klangkultur, nicht vordergründiger Hexerei überzeugt.

Werner Theurich, June 2013


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



Shostakovich/Rachmaninov ONYX

This is a quite exceptional performance of Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata. There are a good many versions already in the catalogue but this one by the young cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and Ukrainian-born pianist Alexie Grynyuk breathes virile new life into the music. From the way they immerse themselves in the reverie at the start of the first movement, you immediately sense that they are going to have something of uncommon interest to impart in their interpretation. And so it proves. Those oft-cited problems of establishing balance between the cello and piano never enter the equation here: this is a dialog between two equal, complementary voices. It is not so much that they know when to yield ground but that they are united in their response to the substance of the music and confident enough in one another’s reactions to be able to make telling expressive points. I can’t imagine how many times I have heard the Rachmaninov Sonata, but rarely with such tingling sensation that its dramatic trajectory has been charted with such consummate perception, that its passions – whether demonstrative or introspective – have been so warmly embraced or that its heart has been so intuitively struck.

In the entirely different realms of late Shostakovich, Elschenbroich and Grynyuk are no less persuasive. This is Daniil Shafran’s cello arrangement of the Viola Sonata. Whereas the Rachmaninov exudes healthy exuberance and rapture, Shostakovich was on his deathbed and the performance captures all the music’s aching desolation, defiance, anxious tensions and bitter twists.

September 2013


The Telegraph (CD of the Week)

Rachmaninov/Shostakovich, ONYX

The Russian cellist Anatoly Brandukov was a best man at Rachmaninov’s wedding in the spring of 1902. He was quite a bit older than the groom, but the two had been close friends for some years, and it was to Brandukov that Rachmaninov dedicated his Prélude and Danse orientale Op 2 of the early 1890s and also the four-movement Cello Sonata, completed and premiered towards the end of 1901. The sonata has become a mainstay of the cello repertoire, but it is a long time since I have heard it played with such captivating freshness as here by the young German cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and the Ukrainian-born pianist Alexei Grynyuk. They both feel and convey the musical idiom instinctively.

They have also found the balance between propulsion and lyrical poise, with the result that the expressive contours of the music are naturally and beautifully described. Certain details (the cello pizzicatos in the first movement, for instance, or the defined textures of the finale) lend the performance a buzz, but the music’s yearning and contemplative facets are equally taken into account and judged with unblemished discretion. There is a romantic soul of warmth and virile energy to this interpretation that makes it very special indeed.

It is quite a leap from mature Rachmaninov to late Shostakovich, but Grynyuk and Elschenbroich find themselves no less in tune with the bleak moods evoked by Daniil Shafran’s cello arrangement of the Viola Sonata. The spectral central movement hardly leavens the impact of this dark music, but there is an intensely inward, deeply communicative quality to this performance that draws you right to its tragic, pensive core.

Geoffrey Norris, August 2013