RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Cello Master Class: Using technique and imagination to achieve artistic expression, and how to play the masterworks
Maria Kliegel (cello); Lynn Kao (piano):
rec. no details given of recording date or venue:
DVDs: NTSC; 16:9; Dolby digital; Region Code 0
NAXOS 2.110280-81 [2 DVDs: 256:42 + 241:17] + Book (198pp)
I should start by explaining that I do not play the cello, and that regrettably I will never benefit from the instruction here sufficiently to be able to play any of the masterworks Maria Kleigel discusses in such detail. Nonetheless watching these DVDs was a fascinating and exhilarating experience for me, showing both the technical and musical difficulties confronting the player of these masterworks together with ways in which they can be overcome by uniting the physical and mental aspects of playing.
The words “master class” often are used to refer to events in which a performer of acknowledged ability takes students through a work, correcting and helping them where necessary in their approach, or sometimes merely showing how much better they are than their students. That is not what we have here. Instead there is a thick paperback book of the same size as the DVD box, which discusses the various aspects of cello technique in great detail. This book is certainly not for beginners but I am sure that good amateur – and even professional – players will gain much from it. It is not intended for non-cellists so that I was not surprised to find much of the detail hard to follow, but what comes through very clearly is Maria Kliegel’s determination that practice and technique should always be servants of the music and of the performer’s musical imagination. She makes suggestions for solutions to problems, and whilst she does this in a firm way there is always an unstated assumption that it is legitimate for the performer to adopt a different approach provided that they have thoroughly considered all possibilities and implications. The arrangement of the book follows the design of a pyramid in which base problems such as finger and thumb positions are followed by hand positions, pitch intervals and so on until the summit of the cellist’s Olympus is reached. In addition rules of playing are linked to the characteristics of different gemstones. This is presumably all part of the author’s intention to link technical achievements with musical aims.
The two DVDs adopt a similar approach. The first two hours are devoted to general matters – over 45 minutes on bowing at the start – and these I found particularly interesting. They show how it is necessary to use the whole body to influence the sound of the instrument, and how different effects can be obtained through small changes of position of the bow or the body. The rest of this disc and the whole of the second are devoted to “infamous excerpts” from three famous solo works – the Haydn D major Concerto, the Schumann Concerto and the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations. Each has about 2 hours devoted to it, and this is fascinating. In some ways the most interesting is the Haydn. As a non-cellist I had assumed that whilst obviously difficult those difficulties are relatively light compared with later more obviously showy works. Maria Kliegel put me right on that straightaway, referring to its apparently notorious difficulty and going on to show why that is the case. You may have thought that the soloist’s opening bars are relatively simple but after watching Maria Kliegel’s demonstration and analysis of how a variety of effects can be imagined and achieved you will never think that again. The other works may be more obviously virtuosic but it is fascinating to hear how their difficulties can be negotiated with the focus very properly being on the music rather than those difficulties.
The “classes” were recorded in German and for the English version Maria Kliegel has translated what she said and dubbed it over the German. This can make listening very wearing at times, with the German version distantly audible at the same time as the English but it is worth putting up with for the sake of what is being said.
This is emphatically not a set for casual listening. It encourages and even demands serious study, but it will repay that many times over. Its stress on the need for hard work and detailed consideration of even the smallest section of the three selected pieces is applicable to any instrument, and many of the more general principles of instrumental technique similarly apply more widely. As I have indicated, I am not a cellist but I still found it fascinating. Cellists I know who have viewed parts of it have been even more enthusiastic. The opportunity of having some eight hours of tuition from such an inspiring teacher is not one to be missed and this is surely an essential purchase for any aspiring player.
Surely an essential purchase for any aspiring player.