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David POPPER (1843-1913)
High School of Cello Playing Op. 73 (1901-05) [112:52]
Martin Rummel (cello)
rec. 2003/4, Telos Studios, Solingen, Germany PALADINO MUSIC PMR0085 [50:50 + 62:02]
When Martin Rummel recorded the set of Popper’s High School of Cello Playing back in 2003-4 he had little or no competition. Reissued by Paladino the slimline twofer now has definite competition in the shape of Dmitry Yablonsky on Naxos (8.557718-19), a recording issued in 2009.
Popper’s magisterial 40 solo etudes were written to respond to the demands of Romantic repertoire and the increase in technical standards in cello playing. It was the first such manual to address these issues and gave aspiring young musicians, including the ranks of the professionals, an opportunity to concentrate on focused studies. Popper wasn’t averse to making some of these etudes essentially uncellistic, the better to prepare students for their forthcoming ordeal at the hands of contemporary composers.
Not many of these pieces would fare especially well on the recital platform, and of course they were not intended to have a life outside the practice studio. That said, they are not at all arid and some possess great fluency and indeed charm, as well as cases of real melodic distinction. Convincing performances on disc demand a strong sense of projection and an awareness of the singing, expressive potential of the music. Both Rummel and Yablonsky are admirably equipped musicians but a side-by-side comparison shows consistently that the latter is the more incisive performer. The timings suggest this rather bluntly. Rummel takes 112 minutes whilst Yablonsky dispatches the etudes in 90. The difference lies in cases where Yablonsky drives through an etude – let’s take, as a single example, No.6 in F major – in a way that makes Rummel sound rather dogged. Rummel has reserves of technique but overall, he can sound somewhat laboured, as if emphasising the technical difficulties to be overcome. It’s not as if Yablonsky stints the important accenting or clear articulation either, even at his greater speed. Sometimes, indeed, the two responses are so divergent as to alter the character of some etudes almost entirely.
Sensible and sensitive though Rummel remains – and he was something of a pioneer in exploring Popper’s music on a wide canvas at the time – it’s to the more extrovert and athletic performance by Yablonsky that I would turn.