A whole CD with short
encores, isn’t that too much of a good
thing? Yes, it can be but in this case
it isn’t. Its success is down to a clever
choice of repertoire.
There are some of the
obvious lollipops: Schubert’s Ständchen,
Debussy’s The Girl with the Flaxen
Hair and Rachmaninov’s Vocalise
– but otherwise there is a plethora
of unhackneyed material and I would
think that even inveterate collectors
will raise an eyebrow at the sight of
some titles. How many of you knew Jean
Baptiste Senaillé? When did you
last hear something by Siegfried Barchet?
And that other Franz Schubert – the
Dresden one – is he more than a name
in the reference books?
On paper the list looks
enticing, and so it turns out to be
in practice, since all the pieces here
have something to offer, in some cases
with the rider "in their own modest
way". The playing is in the top
flight which of course is what can be
expected from Maria Kliegel. This disc,
originally issued on the Marco Polo
nearly fifteen years ago, must be among
her earliest recordings but since then
there has been a steady stream of CDs
on Naxos, covering repertoire from Bach
to Tavener and Schnittke, solo discs,
duo discs, trio discs and recitals with
orchestra, all of them receiving accolades
from reviewers and selling well. I don’t
know how well this particular collection
did on the full price Marco Polo label,
but at Naxos super-budged price it should
immediately be snapped up.
Some of the pieces
here are original compositions for cello
and piano, others are transcribed by
noted cellists who knew how to expose
the instrument and the player in a positive
light. Gaspar Cassadó, Spaniard,
a one-time pupil of Casals, explores
the whole register of the instrument
in his own Dance of the Green Devil,
written no doubt to demonstrate his
own dexterity. His arrangement of his
compatriot Granados’s Intermezzo
from Goyescas is also cleverly
done to catch the atmosphere of the
original. The opera itself is highly
original, being drawn from a suite for
piano inspired by 18th century
David Popper, another
famous cellist from an earlier generation,
also puts heavy technical demands on
the player in his Fantasy on Little
Russian Songs. The origin of the
songs is unknown to me and obviously
also to Keith Anderson in his otherwise
expert liner notes. This fantasy is
actually a quite substantial piece,
playing for more than eleven minutes.
The Serenade in contrast is less
showy but gives Ms Kliegel full scope
to let her Stradivarius sing.
In the Naxos catalogue
there is a whole Kliegel CD devoted
to Popper’s music, "Romantic Cello
Showpieces" (8.554657), among them
the Requiem for 3 cellos and orchestra
mentioned in the booklet.
With Bach’s Air
on the G string we are treading
well-known paths. Here Kliegel draws
long unbroken lines of tone with exquisite
gradings of nuance. Masterly! Schubert’s
Ständchen also sings of
course and once again one is reminded
of the similarities between the cello
tone and a mellifluous contralto. Here
she also duets with herself through
perfect double-stops. There is an intensity
in the playing in the middle of the
piece that tells us that this is indeed
a drama – not just another melodic ditty.
His namesake, the somewhat younger "Schubert-Dresden"
is represented by 77 seconds of Die
Biene (The Bee), which buzzes joyfully.
originally for orchestra, is one of
many examples of the composer’s melodic
gift and highly personal inventiveness,
elegant and spirited, while Ravel’s
and Debussy’s pieces were both originally
conceived as piano music and share an
atmosphere of subtle restraint. Going
back in time to Jean Baptiste Senaillé,
a contemporary of Bach and Handel, his
little Allegro spiritoso is a
nice conversation for cello and piano.
Vieuxtemps was one
of the great violin virtuosos of the
19th century, but transcribed
by Jenö Hubay, his Cantilena
has the cello singing beautifully. Ideal
for late night listening, until at c.
2:35 one is brutally woken up by something
similar to "Flight of the Bumble-Bee".
After this minute-long intermezzo we
can lean back again and enjoy the initial
dreamy atmosphere with some extra embellishments
of the solo part.
In Barchet’s short
piece Kliegel lets her bow have a rest
and plays a pizzicato duet with the
piano. The next piece, the ten-minute-long
Danse bohémienne, reminds
us that Offenbach at the outset of his
career was a cellist and actually wrote
quite a lot for his own instrument.
The light-hearted character of this
music points in the direction of his
operettas. In operetta terms there is
a real set-piece for the prima donna
about halfway through the composition
and then it ends with a rousing patter-song
to tear the house down.
as Keith Anderson writes, really suits
instrumentalists better than singers,
who always face the problem with breathing
in these long cantilenas – provides
the instrumentalist’s legato playing
is flawless, which Maria Kliegel’s certainly
is. Leonard Rose’s transcription is
the standard version for cellists.
As an encore to this
collection of encores we cross the Atlantic
for the easy-going jazziness of Gershwin’s
Short Story, played with the
same tongue-in-the-cheek elegance as
Good sound, good pianist,
generous playing-time. If the programme
appeals to you – don’t hesitate!