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Then there was the well-known Suite Populaire Espagnole, based on Spanish popular songs, by Manuel de Falla. De Falla was born in Cadiz, Andaluçia on 23 November 1862 and he died on 14 November 1946 in Argentina. His life was filled with travel and although he was greatly influenced by the Andalucian cante jondo, his other influences included composers like Debussy and Ravel. In 1907 he traveled to Paris to meet with both the above-named, having previously corresponded with Debussy. Later, when he lived in Granada, the poet Frederico Garcia Lorca was one of his closest friends and in 1936 he tried and failed to prevent the hapless poet's murder. By that time, the six movement suite (based on seven songs but the seventh is usually dropped for the suite) had already been composed (1914-15). Not surprising, it contains very difficult parts for the piano also.
The Suite has been performed in all sorts of different instrument combinations over the years, for cello most famously by Jacqueline du Pré, but also for violin and piano, for flute and piano, for flute and guitar, for double bass. So one can do a lot with this work, including choosing the succession of the various movements -- but here, Steckel and Mednik stayed conservative and went with the standard version: starting with the El Pano Moruno that challenges with its frequent changes of mood, then into the hauntingly beautiful cradle song Nana that Steckel performed with all the signs of an emerging master cellist, paying considerable attention to the delicate handsomeness that governs the movement. The cheery third movement, the Cançion, gave the two performers permission to let go and they charged ahead into the movement with healthy abandon to the attractive Spanish beat. Here, careful management of the piano is required, for it must steer without ruling.
De Falla had started out in his musical life as a pianist and so his doctrine, in composition, does not call for a submissive partnering pianist but neither for a blood-thirsty domination of a piano that strives for control as it claws its way through a busybody performance. Rumour has it that de Falla was of the opinion that a pianist would benefit from a considerable degree of technical and musical problems and these he has provided in a sufficient amount, although always in a good-natured spirit.
Mednik, whose thoughtfulness transmits into her playing, is a dependable partner in this and the next movements that radiated a precious kind of interplay between the two instruments. For the Polo, Steckel's cello engaged in some playfulness, happily whistling along like a Spaniard taking an early morning stroll on the beaches of Andalucia -- close your eyes and the trappings of a Munich concert hall in the rain are gone. Open them again and the beach images might have disappeared, but what remains is a proud cello aware of its superiority under the skilled hands of a young man whose musical maturity belies his actual age. The Asturiana that follows speaks of excellence, setting out on a vigorous musical journey the destination of which is somewhere in the cello sky where the work ends with the Jota movement.
Copyright © 21 October 2004
Tess Crebbin, Germany