Cello Master Class. Led by Maria Kliegel. 2 DVDs (2110280-81) and 198-page booklet (747313528059). Naxos DVD, 2010. $49.99.
Originally released in 2006 by Schott Music, this multimedia project is the recipient of two European awards: the Digita Award and the European Media Award Comenius EduMedia-Siegel. In over eight hours of video, Grammy-nominated cellist Maria Kliegel examines specific pitfalls of technique that plague even the most advanced performers. Kliegel has conducted master classes on a regular basis at the Cologne Music Academy since 1986 and is active as a solo performer and as cellist for the Xyrion Trio. Kliegel has recorded with Naxos since her 1991 collaboration with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Cello Concertos (Elgar and Dvořák).
Quintessence, as Kliegel calls this product, consists of two DVDs and a sizable booklet. Part 1 of Quintessence—“The Book”—is not quite a book and yet not quite a booklet (its 200 pages are the size of a DVD case… I’ll let you decide what to call it). Its multiple chapters cover the fingerboard, the left hand (pitch, position, vibrato, etc.), bowing, and strategies for effective practicing. Kliegel’s foreword is motivating and positive and tackily includes images of scanned letters of recommendation written by former teacher János Starker and mentor Mstislav Rostropovich. The book contains many music examples throughout the chapters and there is a brief addendum of technical exercises by Starker, though the print is so small that one hopes these examples were intended purely for reference.
Kliegel’s writing is rich in anecdotes and imagery. At the beginning of the book, she has included a customized image of a pyramid structured synonymously with the seven chapters of the book, each of which is represented by a level in the pyramid. Those who embrace pyramid models will be pleased to know the base level contains the most rudimentary elements of Quintessence (finger positions) while upper levels explore more advanced techniques, such as shifts and suggestions for effective practicing. She has also developed a system in which at the end of each chapter she awards a figurative gem (in a meaningful order) for each new skill set acquired or concept learned. The final chapter of the book contains a synopsis of the accomplished student’s collection of gems.
Parts 2 and 3 are viewed on the two DVDs. Bow technique and left-hand technique, which both appear on DVD 1, explain and demonstrate expressions noted in italics throughout the book. The second half of DVD 1 and all of DVD 2 contain Part 3, which Kliegel calls “Infamous Excerpts.” Kliegel walks the viewer through notable difficulties in Haydn’s Concerto in D major, Schumann’s Concerto in A minor, and Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations in A major. Though one could probably use the DVDs and book separately, the product itself recommends the media be used in sync; the book contains frequent references to chapter points in the DVDs.
On both DVDs, Kliegel speaks directly to the camera in German, often while she is playing. Her instruction is overdubbed in English, though in order to make the cello audible, the producers were required to leave her German commentary audib;e as well. This unfortunate but necessary situation is distracting and hinders the overall usability of the product. Transcriptions of the English translation are provided on the DVDs as PDF files.
It is difficult to tell who the intended audience is for this project. The product abstract seems to bill it as “tips and tricks” from a master cellist, to help advanced players overcome staple difficulties in the repertoire. I have no doubt of this claim when viewing the “Infamous Excerpts” section, in which Kliegel recommends alternate fingerings to maximize agility, advises on how to read a conductor, and instructs in executing sensitive shifts relative to the bow movement.
Overall, this project was surely a massive undertaking that will prove useful to cellists at all levels of ability, and those whose most comfortable language is English will especially appreciate this edition. The only thing missing is the cello…
– Anne Shelley