DVD masterclass


Note: The following review was written by my son Eitan Cornfield, who is a performing 'cellist. I had asked him to review this item, since the technical subjects discussed therein are over my head. I believe he
has more than done justice to this outstanding recording.
Giv Cornfield

Maria Kliegel Cello Master Class
198 page book with 2 DVDs / NAXOS 2110280-81
The Book: Quintessence 1: Description of 'cello techniques demonstrated on the DVDs (198 pages)

DVD 1: Quintessence 2 - Bow Technique (43:53) - Left-hand Technique (1:21:55) -
Quintessence 3: - Infamous Excerpts: Haydn, Concerto in D major (2:08:54)

DVD 2: Quintessence 3 - Infamous Excerpts: Schumann, Concerto in
A minor (1:54:49) - Tchaikovsky, Rococo Variations in A major (2:06:28)

The German cellist Maria Kliegel has been on the Naxos roster of artists for 20 years now,
contributing everything from valuable recordings of the Bach suites and the Beethoven and
Brahms sonatas, to the great concertos for the instrument: Dvorak, Schumann,
Elgar and Haydn. All are characterized by an impeccable technique in the service
of a keenly intelligent musical mind.

What a bonus, then, that Naxos has decided to release a series of video
master classes based on her 25 years of teaching at the Hochschule für Musik
Köln. The boxed set introduces viewers to her fiercely disciplined approach to
cello technique, itself an extension of the pioneering work of her own teacher,
Janos Starker.

But for me the real interest here is Kliegel's deconstruction of some of the
most treacherous passages of the cello literature, taken from the Haydn D
Major and Schumann concertos and Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations.
Kliegel is not only a sensational cellist, she's a most attractive woman. She
addresses the camera with verve and wit, her trusty accompanist at her side
all the while.

Her passion for the music and attention to its every nuance is married to a
rigorous scientific method. Every decision about fingering, bowing and
phrasing is arrived at by discarding all the alternatives. Her hands come to
life and she speaks of her fingers as an animal trainer speaks of her charges,
charming the viewer as she demonstrates how to train a finger to perform a
death-defying leap.

The technical tricks Kliegel shares are not for beginner or even intermediate
cellists, though. These are master classes in the strictest sense of the word,
and assume the viewer or reader is already a professional calibre musician.
But here's a suggestion to any music lover, even if you can't hold a recorder:
Watch these videos. You'll enter the unfathomable garden of a gifted musician's
mind, and be guided through the music synapse by synapse.

Only one minor cavil in an otherwise praiseworthy project: A rogue track
devoted to the Dvorak cello concerto has mysteriously inserted itself into
each of the sections dealing with the Haydn, Schumann and Tchaikovsky

Highly recommended.

David W Moore
American Record Guide, May 2011

[Maria Kliegel] is technically an impressive player with a musical personality full of life and variety. She is also clearly a fine teacher with a clever way of keeping things interesting by inventing extra-musical associations for many of the points she makes.

The work that went into this massive project had to be huge, and Kliegel is to be congratulated. I am sure any cellist will find it fascinating and helpful.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Tim Homfray
The Strad, March 2011

Maria Kliegel’s cello masterclass, Using Technique and Imagination to Achieve Artistic Expression, is of a different order. Kliegel speaks (in German, with an English voice-over) and demonstrates on two DVDs accompanying a treatise of near-200 pages on left and right-hand technique, with reference to three key works: Haydn’s D major Concerto, Schumann’s Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations. It’s a substantial and powerful piece of work.

Frank Behrens
Art Times, February 2011

One of, if not the most, unusual book-with-DVD sets I have run across has been released by Naxos with the title “Cello Master Class: Using Technique and Imagination to achieve Artistic Expression.” It was made in Germany in 2006 and features cellist Maria Kliegel, who is speaking in German under an English voice-over translation.

The format on 2 DVDs is very simple. In the first part, Kliegel talks about bow technique, in the second left-hand technique, and in the following three parts particularly difficult passages from cello works by Haydn, Tchaikovsky and Schumann. The 198-page book presents much additional material with musical examples, and there are frequent cross-references to the material on the DVDs.

Now I do not play any musical instrument, and yet I was utterly fascinated by the virtually endless techniques a cellist must master so that the 30 bowing techniques can be perfectly coordinated with the 62 left-hand techniques shown on the disc. This is not a DVD designed for casual viewing!

However, the viewer should be familiar with all that is presented in the first two parts to appreciate better Kliegel’s comments on the three works, in which she is accompanied by pianist Lynn Kao.

The program notes declare that this master class is meant for advanced cellists. But how can a teacher or student of any bow/string instrument resist this set? And is there a college music department that will not want it for viewing by the faculty and then for use in class? Take note!

John Sheppard
MusicWeb International, February 2011

Recording of the Month

I should start by explaining that I do not play the cello, and that regrettably I will never benefit from the instruction here sufficiently to be able to play any of the masterworks Maria Kliegel discusses in such detail. Nonetheless watching these DVDs was a fascinating and exhilarating experience for me, showing both the technical and musical difficulties confronting the player of these masterworks together with ways in which they can be overcome by uniting the physical and mental aspects of playing.

The words “master class” often are used to refer to events in which a performer of acknowledged ability takes students through a work, correcting and helping them where necessary in their approach, or sometimes merely showing how much better they are than their students. That is not what we have here. Instead there is a thick paperback book of the same size as the DVD box, which discusses the various aspects of cello technique in great detail. This book is certainly not for beginners but I am sure that good amateur—and even professional—players will gain much from it. It is not intended for non-cellists so that I was not surprised to find much of the detail hard to follow, but what comes through very clearly is Maria Kliegel’s determination that practice and technique should always be servants of the music and of the performer’s musical imagination. She makes suggestions for solutions to problems, and whilst she does this in a firm way there is always an unstated assumption that it is legitimate for the performer to adopt a different approach provided that they have thoroughly considered all possibilities and implications. The arrangement of the book follows the design of a pyramid in which base problems such as finger and thumb positions are followed by hand positions, pitch intervals and so on until the summit of the cellist’s Olympus is reached. In addition rules of playing are linked to the characteristics of different gemstones. This is presumably all part of the author’s intention to link technical achievements with musical aims.

The two DVDs adopt a similar approach. The first two hours are devoted to general matters—over 45 minutes on bowing at the start—and these I found particularly interesting. They show how it is necessary to use the whole body to influence the sound of the instrument, and how different effects can be obtained through small changes of position of the bow or the body. The rest of this disc and the whole of the second are devoted to “infamous excerpts” from three famous solo works—the Haydn D major Concerto, the Schumann Concerto and the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations. Each has about 2 hours devoted to it, and this is fascinating. In some ways the most interesting is the Haydn. As a non-cellist I had assumed that whilst obviously difficult those difficulties are relatively light compared with later more obviously showy works. Maria Kliegel put me right on that straightaway, referring to its apparently notorious difficulty and going on to show why that is the case. You may have thought that the soloist’s opening bars are relatively simple but after watching Maria Kliegel’s demonstration and analysis of how a variety of effects can be imagined and achieved you will never think that again. The other works may be more obviously virtuosic but it is fascinating to hear how their difficulties can be negotiated with the focus very properly being on the music rather than those difficulties.

The “classes” were recorded in German and for the English version Maria Kliegel has translated what she said and dubbed it over the German. This can make listening very wearing at times, with the German version distantly audible at the same time as the English but it is worth putting up with for the sake of what is being said.

This is emphatically not a set for casual listening. It encourages and even demands serious study, but it will repay that many times over. Its stress on the need for hard work and detailed consideration of even the smallest section of the three selected pieces is applicable to any instrument, and many of the more general principles of instrumental technique similarly apply more widely. As I have indicated, I am not a cellist but I still found it fascinating. Cellists I know who have viewed parts of it have been even more enthusiastic. The opportunity of having some eight hours of tuition from such an inspiring teacher is not one to be missed and this is surely an essential purchase for any aspiring player.

Laurence Vittes
The Huffington Post, January 2011

For all the aspiring young cellists in your life, consider gifting them with Maria Kliegel’s Master Class on DVD for Naxos. There is an enormous amount of information covered by a very sympathetic teacher, and all of it founded somehow, although the repertoire she covers ranges deep into the 20th century, on Bach’s Six Cello Suites. Ms Kliegel includes several diagram graphs in the accompanying book that look suspiciously like John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.

Anne Shelley
Music Media Monthly, January 2011

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 audible 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…

Nicholas Sheffo
Fulvue Drive-in, December 2010

The pleasant surprise this month is an extensive look at how to play the great instrument the Cello, made easy and explained in the most thorough, professional way possible by Maria Kliegel in the Master Class DVD series from Naxos that includes a DVD set with a booklet inside its case and a larger 198 page softcover book (all inside a slide case) that is remarkable and a gift-level quality release. Miss Kliegel is someone who is smart, articulate and has priceless advice on how to handle this instrument (and more for that matter) that makes this set worth every penny. I hope this is the beginning of an extensive series everyone can enjoy and learn from, because I was very impressed.