One classic - and
one slight disappointment. Thatís always seemed to me the right
balance between these two Casals performances, the one directed
by him, the other featuring him with a galaxy of like-minded
Iíve always admired
his later 1970 Marlboro performance of the B flat major symphony.
Here he kills it with kindness rather as he, Stern and Primrose
collaborated in killing Mozartís Sinfonia Concertante at Prades
at around the same time.† This earlier Prades symphony performance
is without first movement repeat and is rather scrappily played.
Casals lacks Beechamís ineffable lightness and ťlan and Bruno
Walterís sweetness Ė you can find the latterís 1960 Columbia
Symphony performance re-released in the same series, coupled
with the Unfinished. Part of the problem is the rather
turgid basses, and the dragging rhythm generally. The horn fluffs
in the second movement are of passing significance only Ė though
doubtless Reiner-esque pedants will find them excruciating.
One feature of the
performance Iíd not noticed quite as much as in this transfer,
which is a tribute to its slight increase in definition and
clarity, is the omnipresence of Casalsís grunting. Whilst one
might admire the almost theatrical intensity Casals brings to
bear in the slow movement the fact remains that Walter is no
less expressive and he takes two and a half minutes less, in
this movement alone. The finale is certainly not turgid, possessing
a rather patrician control though it lacks once again that subtle
rhythmic lift that gives zest and animation to the this movement.
The Quintet performance
is cut from a different quality of cloth. The tension, the rubati
and the caesurae are all part of the intense expressive commitment
brought by these five stellar musicians. Obviously one can take
a different point of view and many newcomers may be unconvinced
by those moments of rhetorical drama that are so plainly on
view. Few could really argue with the subtly liquid portamenti
the violinists employ nor the highly romanticised phrasing in
the slow movement. The ensemble is not watertight and neither
is the intonation but the spirit is laden with feeling and generosity
and donít neglect the dynamism of the Scherzo with its powerfully
lyric central section; the bronzed seriousness of the phrasing,
the rapt passion of the whole enterprise.
I donít find the
DSD and SBM remastering has been able to clarify things quite
as impressively as was the case in the Szell Mozart Symphony
re-issue in this same series but this is partly to do with the
respective ages of the recordings. Itís slightly clarified and
improved, no question, but the differences arenít so major.