These classic recordings have never been far from the
catalogue, and their most recent transfer was as part of EMI’s Références
series at full price. So we must be again in Naxos’s debt for making
them available at bargain price, and in such excellent sound. The readings
themselves are virtually self-recommending, and anyone who has the remotest
interest in the cello, or, indeed, just great music making, should not
Casals was a unique artist, and the force of his personality
is such that the listener is simply swept along with the flow of the
composer’s inspiration. His partner for most of these recordings was
the estimable Mieczyslaw Horszowski, and though Casals tends to dominate
proceedings, it is obvious that the contribution of the pianist is creating
a collaborative ‘spark’. This is particularly true in the Brahms F major,
often hailed as one of the truly great cello recordings. Rarely has
the work’s heroic opening been projected with so much swagger and confidence
(complete with exposition repeat), and one can only marvel at the partnership
in the Allegro passionato third movement, where Brahms’s harmonic
daring is fully exploited. One feels positively cheated that they only
recorded the one sonata.
The Beethoven Sonatas are no less inspirational, and
the innovative Op.5 pieces get readings worthy of them; sample the two
musicians in the lovely Adagio sostenuto opening of Op.5 No.2,
where Horszowski underpins Casals’s soulful, thrusting projection of
the melodic line perfectly. The Op.102 Sonatas are as profound as anything
Beethoven produced, and the duo are mindful of this. The great Adagio
con molto sentimento d’affeto second movement of Op. 102
No.2 is as mysterious and searching as one could hope for; the Allegro
fugato that follows, somewhat akin to the ‘Hammerklavier’
fugue, has the artists at full stretch, and is thrilling to experience.
The A major Sonata, op.69, was recorded some nine years
before Op.5 and Op.102, and with a different partner, Otto Schulhof.
Differences are striking; less trenchant phrasing, more ‘songful than
soulful’, as one critic had it, and as rewarding in its own way as the
more dynamic performances. The same partnership play the charming encore,
an arrangement of the famous Minuet in G that had originally taken up
the sixth side of the A Major’s 78rpm records, with just the right amount
of lightness and playfulness.
Recordings of this quality deserve the most painstaking
transfers, and Mark Obert-Thorn has done them proud. Surface noise is
as low as one could reasonably expect, and though the balance favours
the cello (which is rather more full-bodied and ‘up front’ than the
piano), this is probably as much Casals as the engineers.
A marvellous reissue, and a worthy follow-up to Naxos’s
excellent re-mastering of Casals’s legendary Bach Cello Suites.