It's not every day someone walks into our NPR Music offices and unpacks an instrument made in 1680. And yet Kian Soltani, the 27-year-old cellist who plays with the authority and poetry of someone twice his age, isn't exactly fazed by his rare Giovanni Grancino cello, which produces large, luminous tones. (He also plays a Stradivarius.)
And if you think the notion of a cello recital isn't exactly sexy or thrilling, just take a look at Soltani; he radiates joy and ingenuity as he performs three pieces that offer virtuosity, sweet lyricism and fire.
The Hungarian Rhapsody, by the late 19th century cellist and composer David Popper, traces its inspiration to similarly titled pieces by Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms, but showcases a number of hot-dogging tricks for the cello, including stratospheric high notes, flamboyant slides and a specific high-velocity bouncing of the bow called sautillé. Soltani nails all of them with nonchalant elegance, backed with companionable accompaniment by pianist Christopher Schmitt.
To prove he can make his instrument truly sing, Soltani worked up his own arrangement of "Nacht und Träume" (Night and Dreams) by Franz Schubert, replacing the human voice with his cello's warm, intimate vocalizing. And in the Persian Fire Dance, Soltani's own composition, flavors from his Iranian roots – drones and spiky dance rhythms – commingle with percussive ornaments.
It all adds up to well-rounded, technically astute playing from a young cellist whose career is ascending in full flight.
Kian Soltani: cello; Christopher Schmitt: piano
Producers: Tom Huizenga, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin, James Willetts; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Kimani Oletu; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Production Assistant: Adelaide Sandstrom; Photo: Amr Alfiky/NPR