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David POPPER (1843 – 1913)
High School of Cello Playing (Forty Etudes), op.73 (1901/1905) [90:19]
Dmitry Yablonsky (cello)
rec. 8 November 2004 and 27 March 2006, Studio 5, Russian State TV and Radio Company, KULTURA, Moscow DDD
NAXOS 8.557718/9 [40:52 + 49:27]
Experience Classicsonline

Remember, as a child at school learning an instrument, whether you wanted to or not? Remember the time you had to put in on various, boring, seemingly endless studies for every conceivable thing imaginable – fingering, vibrato, keeping a line, the quality of your sound production? The list goes on and on, and it was sufficient torture to make many simply stop playing. Others, however, relished the challenge and they progressed onto bigger things and then to real musical works.
At Grammar School, as a 12 year old interested in classical music, I started taking lessons on the cello. I had a good teacher but I had neither the patience nor the interest for the hours of practice necessary to make any real progress; I never got past first position. Part of the problem, and the same happened when I started to learn the piano, was that I knew what the music should sound like but I could never make my fingers do what my mind knew they had to do to make the music work. The, to me, interminable Studies of Carlo Alfredo Piatti brought my cello playing days to a swift conclusion.
So, with this still firmly in my mind, you can imagine my lack of real excitement when I opened the box of CDs sent to me for review and discovered a CD of cello studies. Then my further dismay at discovering that it was two CDs of cello studies! If I were a drinking man I would have reached for the gin bottle … and drunk it neat.
I put off playing these CDs for quite some time, indeed, until I could no longer avoid listening to them, if only to get them out of the way so that my conscience was satisfied and I could move on to some real music.
So imagine my surprise when I started listening and I discovered something rather more than mere studies. I’m not saying that I found forty undiscovered masterpieces, I certainly didn’t, but what I did hear was some very exciting cello playing and some very interesting music which, whilst designed to strengthen the technique of the player, was bold and well written in its own right. Keith Anderson, in his fine note in the booklet, introduces each study to us, telling us what it was designed to do – number 1 is a “study in triplets, to be played with a loose wrist at the nut, slightly staccato”, while number number 32, to take another study at random, “contrasts legato with bowed staccato in its continuing semiquaver motion”.
I am not going to list the use for each piece, life is too short for that, suffice it for me to say that I really enjoyed these miniatures – only six of them exceed three minutes in duration. and Yablonsky plays them as if they are real music. Which they are!
How often I would return to these CDs for repeated listening I do not know but if you have any interest in music for cello, and superb cello playing, this is a very interesting side-light on 19th century writing for that most mellow of stringed instruments. In a way, this is quite a find.
Bob Briggs


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