Jean-Louis DUPORT (1749-1819)
21 Etudes: Etude No.7 in G minor [2:04]: Etude No.8 in D [5:35]
Alfredo PIATTI (1822-1901)
12 Caprices, Op.25 (pub 1875) [46:52]
Capriccio sopra un tema della 'Niobe' di Pacini, Op.21 (c 1840 pub 1865) [11:06]
David POPPER (1843-1913)
Hohe Schule des Violoncello-Spiels, Op.73: Etude No.29 in F sharp minor [2:56]
Antonio Meneses (cello)
rec. June 2014, St Peter's, Evercreech, Somerset, UK
AVIE AV2328 [68:44]
The nineteenth-century produced a burgeoning breed of virtuoso cellists, and with them came a powerful body of work, both concert-orientated and pedagogic. Antonio Meneses has chosen here to specialise in a literature that is more often written about than actively programmed - and when it is performed tends to be done so selectively.

That's not wholly true of the most important and extensive work in this disc, Alfredo Piatti's Twelve Caprices, Op.25 as recent years have seen several recordings emerge of these technically demanding and yet richly characterised pieces. Meneses values the Caprices as technical exercises but also salutes their poetic qualities, and both these elements - the rigorous technique supporting a projection of the varied and expressive qualities inherent in the music - are ones he evokes in his highly persuasive account.

As well as arrangements and transcriptions Piatti composed over thirty original works for the cello. As one of the leading cellists of his day, and one who performed in a quartet including Ernst, Joachim and Wieniawski - as violist - fellow cellists paid close attention to his teaching materials. The Caprices were published in Berlin in 1875 and are a cello compendium containing a huge range of devices and techniques for both left and right hand. Meneses follows Piatti's marked bowings meticulously. The second of the twelve is the longest and Meneses voices in such a way that his colours suggest two or even three cellos in spirited conversation. Offering this vocalised parallel to mere technical exercises enlivens the experience of listening to them no end. The terrific difficulties of the Allegro comodo (No.5) are carried off with brio and nothing here sounds at all dogged whilst he keeps the melody line of No.6 running despite the considerable obstacles Piatti puts in front of the performer. No.8 in A minor is quite Paganinian and the allusions suggest that Piatti was placing his studies in the lineage of the older Italian's own Caprices, and doing for the cello what Paganini had done for the violin. It's the layering of tonal colours and precision of articulation that allows Meneses to suggest different voicings in No.10 in B minor. He also aptly brings out the little Handelianisms of the last of the set.

The other work by Piatti is his solo finger-buster, the Capriccio on a theme from Pacini's Niobe. This operatic paraphrase sits solidly in mid-nineteenth century style - it was written around 1840 but not published until 1865. It's a one-man band of cellistic virtuosity, though non-cellists may not want to hear it quite so often. Meneses also plays a piece, No.29 of 40, from the later cello bible, David Popper's High School of Cello Playing, Op.73. A generation younger than Piatti, the Czech Popper set new standards for the new generation of players and this single piece reflects on cello studies of his own time. The programme is topped and tailed by a much earlier brace of pedagogic pieces by Jean-Pierre Duport. These are two of the 21 Etudes for solo cello, and the eighth of the set, an Adagio cantabile, is a thoroughly appropriate way to end this exacting but exciting recital.

It has been very well recorded in a church acoustic without billowy echo or distracting distancing of sound and there are fine notes too. Of course there are competing versions of the Piatti Caprices, not least from Carmine Miranda on Navona NV5972 - and he is notably quicker than Meneses, playing them rather less poetically. Soo Bae plays them on Naxos 8.570782 and she's quicker too, though not as fast as Miranda. Couplings may be a consideration but certainly Meneses now offers the most persuasive fusion of technique and poetry in the formidable Caprices.

Jonathan Woolf

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