Natalie Clein

Written by: Colin Anderson

Cellist Natalie Clein has a new CD out and she plays Tchaikovsky with the London Mozart Players on 20 October

Cellist Natalie Clein has been playing the waiting game. She caught the public imagination by winning Young Musician of the Year ten years ago, aged 17, and has bided her time. “It wasn’t easy because I wasn’t ready for an international career; I didn’t have the studying time I wanted and I turned record contracts and some concerts down. I wanted to learn, and I don’t regret it. I met some wonderful colleagues through the competition, and they asked me to play chamber music, and that’s a lifelong blessing.” Natalie now feels like “a young professional, I’m working very hard and feeling very passionate about what I’m doing, and I feel much stronger now, although I’m not machine-like; I have good days and bad days, that’s part of being human.”

Natalie comes from a musical family. “Both my parents are music lovers and my mother’s a professional violinist, so I grew up with the sound of music all around me. It was very natural that I would play some instrument. When I was seven my father came home with a little cello and I fell in love with this instrument.” Natalie’s musical career started when she was “about 12 when I started to take it seriously and became inspired by listening to great cellists: Rostropovich, of course, Steven Isserlis and Heinrich Schiff.” Natalie studied with Schiff who has been a “huge influence. He’s one of the great musicians, not just a great cellist. He looks at the score from many angles; maybe being a conductor as well makes him more objective about what a piece involves. What was wonderful about his teaching was the ability to combine technical teaching with musical and philosophical teaching; my time with him was like an apprenticeship.”

Natalie has now made her first CD, a debut that throws her into the deep end with the two sonatas of Brahms – “works of genius” – and Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, the arpeggione being a short-lived bowed guitar. Natalie describes recording this repertoire as being “rather like a mountaineer who chooses Everest as their first mountain. This is music I feel strongly about and I deeply love. Recording is not so different from a concert: you play, you believe in what you do at that moment and you’re not thinking about who else has played it and how did that compare to what I’m doing now. Many things are valid and there’s room for many different interpretations. That what makes our profession so fascinating, and why concerts will never go out of fashion.”

Natalie has a concert on the 20th, at St John’s Smith Square. She plays Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations with the London Mozart Players in Fitzenhagen’s version rather than Tchaikovsky’s original. “It’s a bit of a toss up. From a moral standpoint we should all be playing Tchaikovsky’s original, but Fitzenhagen’s reordering stands up better although Tchaikovsky’s dynamics are much more subtle.” Tchaikovsky’s Andante cantabile also features; it’s one of those great tunes “from the Russian soul.”

Natalie’s new CD (Classics for Pleasure 5861462) is impressive: very musical and committed; her sound just as she describes her cello – “incredible power and focus, like a beam of light.” For Natalie, although “you have to bite through quite a thick texture at some moments in both sonatas,” Brahms’s cello sonatas are “beautifully written, the second one is more compact and says much in less time. The first is expressive and lyrical, a big dark landscape full of his world at that time. The second is more intellectual and rigorous, and the slow movement has the same deep intensity as late Beethoven does.”

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