> Great Cellists - Casals [TH]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Cello Sonata No. 1 in F major, Op.5, No.1
Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 5, No.2
Cello Sonata No.3 in A major, Op.69
Cello Sonata No. 4 in C major, Op.102, No.1
Cello Sonata No. 5 in D major, Op. 102, No.2
Minuet in G major
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, Op.99
Pablo Casals (cello), Mieczyslaw Horszowski (piano-Brahms, Beethoven Cello Sonatas 1,2, 4 & 5,), Otto Schulhof (piano-Beethoven Cello Sonata No.3, Minuet)
Recorded in Paris, June 1939 (Beethoven Nos.1, 2 & 5), EMI Abbey Road Studio No.3, London, November 1936 (Beethoven No.4, Brahms), Queen’s Hall Small Studio C, London, March 1930 (Beethoven No. 3, Minuet)
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110949-50 [2 discs, 67.39, 67.14] Mono ADD


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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 hesitate.

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.

Tony Haywood

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