The charms of youth

Camille Thomas signed for Deutsche Grammophon in April this year, becoming the first cellist in more than four decades to join the yellow label. Her debut DG album is now scheduled for release on 6 October 2017. Reflecting Thomas’s love of the French Romantic repertoire, it features lyrical works for cello and orchestra by Saint-Saëns and Offenbach, including the former’s First Cello Concerto, a masterpiece of its genre, and a delightful excerpt from the latter’s Harmonies des bois. The album was recorded with the Orchestre National de Lille and Alexandre Bloch, and also includes guest appearances by tenor Rolando Villazón and violinist Nemanja Radulović. Thomas will be performing a selection of these works by Saint-Saëns and Offenbach at concerts in Vevey, Berlin and Hamburg in the days leading up to the release date.

“The full-bodied, confident tone with which she enables melodies to blossom beneath her bow is thrilling. The grace with which she then contrasts this with a velvety pianissimo is simply magical.” (Süddeutsche Zeitung)

Camille Thomas, the first cellist signed to Deutsche Grammophon in over forty years, has chosen music full of youthful invention for her debut album on the yellow label. Her recording of works by Saint-Saëns and Offenbach will be released on 6 October 2017.

Camille Saint-Saëns made his breakthrough as a composer in 1862, at the age of twenty-seven, with his Suite for cello and piano, op. 16, a work he later orchestrated. He went on to enrich the cello repertoire of his homeland with an original orchestral masterpiece, the Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor. Jacques Offenbach, for his part, was himself a virtuoso cellist, lauded as the “Franz Liszt of the cello” in his youth. Before he turned to operetta composition, his early works for the instrument, which ranged in mood from bright and sparkling to lyrical and elegiac, made him the toast of Parisian salons.

Camille Thomas also has a very close personal connection with Paris, her career path being a kind of mirror image of that of Offenbach, who travelled to Paris from Germany to study music. Born in the French capital in 1988, Thomas began her musical education there with Marcel Bardon, then moved to Germany to work with Frans Helmerson at the Hanns Eisler Hochschule für Musik in Berlin and, later, with Wolfgang-Emanuel Schmidt at the Franz Liszt Hochschule für Musik in Weimar. By that time she had launched her international career with appearances in such prestigious concert halls as the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, the Victoria Hall in Geneva and the Jerusalem Music Centre. Among a series of successes in national and international music competitions, she was nominated for a “Newcomer of the Year” award at the 2014 Victoires de la Musique – France’s equivalent of the Grammy Awards – and, later that same year, won the New Talent competition sponsored by the European Broadcasting Union.

Her recent album Reminiscences, released by the French boutique label La Dolce Volta in October 2016, has just been crowned with the 2017 Echo Klassik award for best (19th-century) chamber music recording of the year. Enthusiastically received by listeners on its release, it led to a number of appearances on German television. Titel, Thesen, Temperamente, on the ARD channel, described Thomas as a “storyteller”, Capriccio (BR), Kulturzeit (3sat), Metropolis (ARTE) and Deutsche Welle all presented TV portraits of the young cellist, and she made an appearance on ZDF’s Morgenmagazin. She hit the headlines in France too, featuring in a special report on the TF1 channel and being chosen by Paris Match, in collaboration with the Belgian TV channel RTBF, as their 2016 “Young Soloist of the Year”. Earlier this year she also appeared on the cultural magazine programme Metropolis on the French-German ARTE channel.

Camille Thomas, who is accompanied on this album by the Orchestre National de Lille and conductor Alexandre Bloch, is fascinated not only by “the charms of youth” displayed by Offenbach and Saint-Saëns in their early cello works, which exploit the instrument’s full virtuosic and expressive potential, but also by the multifaceted nature of these two composer-musicians: “I feel a close affinity to their world,” observes the young cellist. “I can identify with the subtle, highly sensitive and typically French sensibility of Saint-Saëns, and with the profound lightness of Offenbach, perhaps the most Parisian of German composers, and a musician whose life and career, like mine, had roots in both France and Germany.”

The magical power of the new, as exuded by the works on this album, goes hand in hand here with Camille Thomas’s love for singing. With her cello, the instrument whose sound is closest to that of the human voice, she aspires to achieve a song-like power of expression. She revels in not only in lyrical music written for her instrument, but in transcriptions of vocal works such as “Mon cśur s’ouvre ŕ ta voix” from Saint-Saëns’s most successful opera Samson et Dalila, an aria which is itself a declaration of love for the human voice and a piece which gives the cellist another opportunity to display her “deep, beguiling sound” (Spiegel ONLINE).

Taking this vocal theme further, Camille Thomas’s album also features a guest appearance by one of today’s best-known opera singers – together she and Mexican-French tenor Rolando Villazón explore life in Paris in “Je suis Brésilien” from Offenbach’s La Vie parisienne (a reminder, too, of the stunning impression she made on ARTE’s Stars of Tomorrow, hosted by Villazón). In the Barcarolle from Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, meanwhile, she teams up with another artist who now, like Villazón, calls Paris home – Serbian violinist Nemanja Radulović.

In the coming season Camille Thomas will be performing some of the repertoire from the album in, among other places, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Toulon and Bordeaux, as well as at the Rheingau Festival. An additional highlight will be the world premiere of Fazil Say’s new cello concerto in Paris with the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris in April 2018.