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Recital Media Review Print

The Salon Music of August Nölck, for Cello and Piano

March 10, 2013 - Chapel Hill, NC:

The Salon Music of August Nölck for Cello and Piano: Beth Vanderborgh, cello, and Theresa Bogard, piano. August Nölck (1862-1928), [6] Salon Pieces, Op. 120, selections from multiple Opuses; transcriptions of six Songs Without Words by Felix Mendelssohn. Albany TROY 1399, © 2013, TT 65:41, ($18.99)

A  search of the three major music reference sources - Harvard Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary, and New Grove Dictionary - will fail to find any biography of August Nölck. He was for a time a director of the Vienna Conservatory before ending his long career as a cello pedagogue in Dresden. The catalog listings of his cello pieces number well over 200. Program annotator Albert Kim links Nölck with the great Dresden School of cello playing, which includes the well-known Friedrich Wilhelm Grützmacher; these pioneers of a teaching tradition formed a foundation for the modern school of technique represented by Pablo Casals and Emanuel Feuermann, among others. Nölck’s music clearly reflects the Romantic styles of Brahms, Schumann, and Mendelssohn.

The Vivaldi revival during the twentieth century owed much to discoveries made by performers and scholars during explorations of old libraries throughout Europe. I don’t expect a Nölck revival on such a scale, but cello teachers and their students may well appreciate cellist Beth Venderborg’s discovery of Nölck’s scores in the cello collection of the Martha Blackeney Hodges University Archives at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro,one of the largest holdings of cello music in the world. She also found some scores in the Library of Congress and at the Sibley Library at the Eastman School of Music.

Nölck’s pieces are short and were intended to be teaching pieces; many would make fine encore selections. They are not too challenging, technically, nor are they harmonically adventurous. The composer's strong gift for engaging melodies in the Romantic tradition will make his music appeal to students as alternatives to dry technical exercises.

The only complete set by Nölck on this recording is Six Salon Pieces, Op. 120, which range from the czardas-like pattern of “Gypsy Maiden” and the operatic mini-drama of “Aria,” to the lyrical “Reverie” or “A Dream,” the stormy Chopinesque “Prelude” and “Mazurka,” and the whirling figurations of “Ring Dance.” Among the 12 selections which open the disc are an exotic Spanische Serenade, Op. 208/1, a Mendelssohn-like “Wiegenlied” (Cradle Song), Op. 2, a darkly folk-like “Legende,” Op. 60, reflective of Schumann, and “Souvenir Lyrique,” which has a wonderful “dreamy melody and a syncopated accompaniment.”  In most cases the melody has been transposed for the cello in the six transcriptions of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words with the piano accompaniment unchanged.

Beth Vanderborg produces a full, warm sound from her Vincenzo Postiglione cello (Naples, 1870). Her intonation is immaculate, her phrasing is superb, and her choices of dynamic are refined. Her palette of tonal color is extensive and delightful. Nölck’s keyboard scoring is not virtuosic, but Theresa Bogard accompanies Vanderborg with a fine sense of the give-and-take of chamber music. The balance between the instruments is excellent, and there is a fine sense of space around them. Evan Richey of Ovation Sound has done a superlative job in the recording, mixing, and mastering of these delightful performances.

Both Beth Vanderborg and Theresa Bogard are on the faculty of the University of Wyoming. Piedmont Triad music lovers are familiar with Vanderborg from her fourteen years (continuing) as principal cellist of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra as well as her membership on the faculty of the Eastern Music Festival during summers. Bogard’s interests range from historical performance practice with fortepianos through contemporary music, chamber music, and the music of women composers.