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Masterclasses - Berman and Kliegel

Masterclasses, often featured in MusicalPointers, are infinitely and fascinatingly various, and two this week have provoked sharing my thoughts.

Boris Berman at RAM

In an hour before Cosi fan tutte at the Royal Academy of Music I took the opportunity to sample there Boris Berman's teaching; not a typical example of that, I guess.

He was starting a three-hour class for three student pianists and I caught most of the Liszt sonata session, that listed first and happening to be one of my usually unfavourite major works in the repertoire.

The Asian student, a tall man, with large hands and long, thin fingers, took his time before he began; he looked every bit "the great pianist".

He had opted to play the whole sonata through, which Berman allowed with some misgivings and which, in the event, he and all of us regretted (as an audience member, one is always impatient for the preliminary play-through to finish - or to be interrupted - for the teaching to begin).

For over half an hour, he thundered out the single-movement Sonata, countered with delicate pp in his armamentarium too, demonstrated his formidable keyboard prowess, which Boris Berman acknowledged.


With only about twenty minutes teaching time left, Berman felt bound to give a straight opinion, "not wrapped up". And so he lectured him and the rest of us in slow, measured delivery about the harmonic implications of this massive monothematic score and its inherent structure; expressive 19th C shaping of phrases axiomatic; relaxation after tension and stress - and a crucial simplicity too, all of which, said Berman, had completely eluded this tiger of the keyboard. With a substantial competition and performance record in his C.V. already, this must have been a shock; a salutary one, hopefully?

That pianist's faults were not of a kind which could be remedied in a short session and I had to leave for the opera (reviewed here). Next morning, I have been listening to Berman's own recording with enjoyment and admiration.

Boris Berman gives masterclasses at the Academy regularly, and I shall make a special effort to attend his next one.

See Boris Berman playing Liszt

Maria Kliegel Cello Master Class

DVD 1: Quintessence 2
- Bow Technique; Left-hand Technique
Quintessence 3:
- Infamous Excerpts: Haydn, Concerto in D major
DVD 2: Quintessence 3
- Infamous Excerpts: Schumann, Concerto in A minor; Tchaikovsky, Rococo Variations in A major

The Book (198 pages): Quintessence 1: Description of the cello techniques demonstrated on the DVDs

Maria Kliegel (cello) - "a leading cellist in worldwide sales"

Naxos: 2110280-81

Maria Kiegel's cello masterclass on an elaborate DVDs + book package is something quite other and to my knowledge unique?

To my shame, and that in common with reviewers on MusicWeb (where her Bach Suites are reckoned amongst the best), her name and playing were new to me [q.v. "Maria Kliegel is one of the most prolific recording cellists in the world, but her name is relatively unknown!"].

Unlike the many master-class DVDs we have reviewed, with appreciative audiences watching actual lessons, Maria Kliegel has no pupils to teach directly on these discs (except for a responsive pianist accompanying her illustrations) so there is no waiting for the lesson to begin...

Kliegel conveys her wealth of experience (a major recording artist for Naxos) with great charm and respect for her watchers in quick-fire demonstrations, always emphasising scope for personal feelings and individual interpretations to aspiring concert cellists, but giving clear examples of how to do things successfully and safely technically.

Whilst the book is chiefly for cellists to study, the DVDs are enthralling for anyone, and you will quickly get to appreciate niceties of bow handling and finger placement in chosen tricky passages which she tackles straightaway.

The classes are given in German, but on the DVDs as received for review consideration there is a voice-over in English - the narrator seems to have to rush to keep up with Maria Kiegel ! The package is organised so that the original German text is available as a .pdf on your computer.

This is an amazing production, cheap at the price; highly recommended to cellists, all other string players and everyone (including CD reviewers !) who would like to have a better understanding of how great string playing, from basics to mastering interpretative pitfalls, is painstakingly achieved.

It goes into levels of detail that you never hear about by attending concervatoire masterclases in which time for each pupil is at a premium.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See Maria Kliegel playing Stravinsky