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David POPPER (1843-1913)
Suite for two cellos, Op. 16 [17:16]
Tempo di Marcia, Op. 16a [3:02]
Waltz Suite, Op. 60 [10:37]
Suite, Op. 69 [23:43]
Suite for cello and piano Op. 16 bis [18:22]
Tempo di Marcia, Op. 16a/bis [4:40]
Im walde [22:58]
Requiem for three cellos, Op. 66 [7:26]
Alexander Hülshoff, Martin Rummel, Bertin Christelbauer (cellos); Mari Kato (piano)
rec. 12-14 December, 2012, Schloss Weinberg, Austria
PALADINO MUSIC PMR0007 [56:41 + 53:09]

David Popper was the so-called "Liszt of the cello", an eager violin student who discovered, in conservatory, that there were too many violinists and not enough cellists. By age 25 he was the principal cello player for the Vienna Court Opera. He was a friend and chamber music partner of Brahms. This album is an enjoyable look into his music for one, two and three cellos, and in fact I wish there were more.
 
For one thing, there is duplication. Popper published the Suite Op. 16 in two versions, one for cello and piano and the other for two cellos without piano. They're both here, as are two march pieces with an unexplained relationship to the suite. They sound like slower trial versions of the finale Popper ultimately used. As much as I love that jovial finale, the largo is the movement to get excited for, especially in the two-cello version.
 
Also present are the big Suite Op. 69 and Im Walde, a suite that aspires to be the cello version of one of Schumann's piano fantasies. Highlights are the Dvorák-like round dance and a cheeky "Dance of the Gnomes". Both these pieces recently appeared on an excellent CD by Wendy Warner, along with the Three Pieces, Op. 11, which are curiously absent from the new two-disc set. There were over 45 minutes of leftover space on these CDs. Wendy Warner's excellent, as are the various performers in this set; the one major difference is that Warner takes the Suite's minuet much more slowly. She also has more of a strength in soft, sweet phrases; Alexander Hülshoff is often just a bit louder.
 
Rounding out the set are two works of opposite natures: the cheery Waltz Suite, ten minutes of pure Johann-Strauss-style delight, and the Requiem for three cellos and piano, a wordless seven-minute lament. Alexander Hülshoff is the soloist for the Suites Opp. 16bis and 69; Martin Rummel has solo turns in the Waltz Suite and Im Walde; they combine for the two-cello pieces and are joined by Bertin Christelbauer for the Requiem; the pianist is Mari Kato. Everyone plays wonderfully, and the net result is that, once again, I'm delighted to make the acquaintance of David Popper. This is catnip for cello lovers.
 
Brian Reinhart