Had circumstances been different David Popper might have given the premiere of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto. The leading Czech-born cellist of his time, and one of Europe’s greatest string players, had however long since gravitated to Vienna and then, even more influentially, to Budapest.
The music in this twofer coincides with or was written (or at least published) after the birth of his daughter Celeste in 1876. Nothing here is as profoundly important as his pedagogic High School of Cello Playing, published as his Op.73, but it was hardly supposed to be. Instead the fruits of this programme are ones saturated in idiomatically genial writing for a variety of chamber forces.
The Op.16 Suite for two cellos feasts on dance patterns and doesn’t bypass the opportunities for wit – the second movement Gavotte is an example of saucily updated baroquerie. The charmingly deft B section of the dancing Scherzo is followed by a relatively strenuous, not altogether serious Largo espressivo
, topped by a terpsichorean finale. Alexander Hülshoff and Martin Rummel are the cellists. Popper also published an alternative version of this final movement, labelled Op.16a, and it’s a touch more lyric and daintier with the two-cello lines more effectively romantic. The Waltz Suite
was published late in the 1880s and after an introduction – with a finale to provide symmetry – Popper writes five waltzes which are nicely varied, bright and light, and are played here with genial eloquence by Martin Rummel with pianist Mari Kato’s support.
The Suite in A major is his longest suite and it’s the one work here that comes closest to any hint of his friendship with and admiration for Brahms, though Popper’s muse was consistently set to a light setting notwithstanding some more strenuous writing. The third movement Ballade
is, by the standards of his cello works, relatively intense - Alexander Hülshoff, the cellist here, plays it delightfully – and enshrines a song without words lyricism that is well worth exploring. The second disc gives us the alternative version of the Suite for two cellos, which was refashioned in a version for cello and piano as Op.16bis. This piano version is the more dramatic, and the same applies to the finale revision, which was also refashioned. Im Walde
is the subtitle of the Suite for Cello and Piano, Op.50, each a named character piece with a Gnomentanz
that’s nearer to Grieg than Liszt, a splendidly warm Andacht
movement – contemporary cellists should dig this out and play it – a fanciful Reigen
and a heartfelt, Raff-like Herbstblume.
Rummel is again the excellent cellist. Finally the three cellists join in the affecting Requiem
, which was performed as a memorial for Popper himself in 1914.
The performances are uniformly first-class and so is the recording and notes. There is an inevitable amount of alternative editions in this twofer, which may limit enthusiasm to cello mavens. This release reminds one that Popper’s music, however piecemeal, was in the repertoire of most of the leading cellists of the day, and that it can be found in recordings from the dawn of recording history – from W.H. Squire, through Klengel, Casals and on to Feuermann and beyond.
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