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Pablo Casals – Encores and transcriptions: Volume 1
David POPPER (1843-1913)

Chanson villageois Op. 62 No. 2
Vito (Spanish Dance) Op. 54 No. 5
Paul HILLEMACHER (1852-1933)

Gavotte tender
Edward MACDOWELL (1860-1908)

Romance Op. 35
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Petite Suite – Menuet – arr. Choisnel
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Moment musical – No. 3 D780 arr. Becker
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Abendlied Op. 85 No. 12 – arr. Becker
Träumerei – Kinderszenen
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)

Après un rêve Op. 7 No. 1 arr. Casals
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Evening Star from Tannhäuser
Preislied from Die Meistersinger – arr Wilhelmj
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Prelude Op. 28 No. 15 Raindrop
Nocturne in E flat major Op. 9 No. 2 arr. Popper
Benjamin GODARD (1849-1895)

Berceuse from Jocelyn
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)

Melody in F major Op. 3 No. 1 arr. Popper
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Adagio from toccata in C major BWV 564 arr. Siloti/Casals
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)

Intermezzo from Goyescas arr. Cassadó
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

The Swan from Carnival of the Animals
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)

Kol Nidrei
Pablo Casals (cello)
Nikolai Mednikoff (piano) except Popper’s Chanson villageois Op. 62 No. 2 – Edouard Gendron (piano)
Recorded Camden, New Jersey, 1925-28
NAXOS 8.110972 [74.00]

 

The great string pioneers Pablo Casals and Lionel Tertis were born on the same day and lived to a great age. They had another thing in common – because they both claimed to have made recordings around the turn of the twentieth century, Casals in Paris and Tertis, on cylinder, in London. No traces have survived. Both happily lived to make quite extensive numbers of discs, Casals beginning in 1915 when he signed a contract with Columbia. A decade later, just before the advent of electrical recordings, he joined Victor and the discs on this Naxos CD, the first of two volumes, comprise the first fruit of that Victor contract with encore and transcription material made between 1925 and 1928 – the final volume will take the series up to 1930. Two of these, the MacDowell Romance and the Bruch Kol Nidrei were unpublished on 78; this early performance of Schumann’s Träumerei (the later one with Otto Schulhoff is the one more commonly studied, because more popular) makes its first appearance since 1926 – it has never been reissued in the intervening years. This conspectus of the early electricals has been conspicuously well transferred by Mark Obert-Thorn and we can hear Casals in all his multi-variegated glory with his highly personalised vibrato usage and his almost vocalised ability to spin legato phrasing over an extended span. Of course the programme as such comprises mainly sweetmeats and trifles but such was the lot of the cellist on disc and there is nothing wrong with a sweet tooth now and again especially when indulged by such as Casals.

He is deliciously lithe and quick in Popper’s Chanson villageois whilst by contrast in Hillemacher’s Gavotte tendre, despite the essential playfulness of this whimsical trifle, he can mine an unstudied depth through registral plangency that lifts the work from a playful and shallow showpiece to something, albeit temporarily, more suggestive. In the Becker arranged Moment Musical we can appreciate the sheer subtlety of Casals’ vibrato employment and the apposite application and length of his diminuendi – no sense at all here of the later lower string gruffness that would increasingly afflict him. The Abendlied is subjected to a "heavenly length" treatment but survives it and though Träumerei is rather more backwardly recorded and once again very slow we can listen to the way his portamenti are softened and the manner in which Casals’ consistently vests the line with colour, which is even more the case in the famous Fauré-Casals Après un rêve. Not all the transcriptions are effective; the Wagner Tannhäuser Evening Star is a case in point and Sieveking’s adaptation of the Raindrop Prelude wouldn’t win points for intellectual ambition – though here the cellist shows himself a master of a special brand of tonal introspection as if to compensate.

The E flat major Nocturne in its Popper guise is notable for tremendously instructive expressive vibrato increase at moments of lyrico-dramatic intensity – even though the trill is not of electric velocity and the intonation wanders fractionally. Those versed in Feuermann’s or Piatigorsky’s way with these arrangements of Chopin – once so prevalent amongst string players and now mainly confined to Old School recitalists – will find Casals heavily textured in comparison. To my ears though it’s the younger men who emerge as sleek and only randomly impressive, Casals striking by far the deeper note – not least in his sparing use of portamento here. There is affectionate warmth in the Godard (nothing is over emoted) and if one thought for a moment that he would sail indifferently through one of the most famous of cellistic encore pieces, Rubinstein’s Melody in F, one would be utterly wrong. This is a master class in the use of colour and the subtle variance and displacements of repeated phrases, the precision of portamanti – slower obviously on the lower strings - and the shading of vibrato. There is expected sustained intensity – a noble expressivity - in the Bach-Siloti Adagio and some wizardly phrasing in the arrangement by his compatriot Cassadó of Granados’s Intermezzo (from Goyescas). His Popper Vito is a saucy romp and the Saint-Saëns affectionate. The Bruch Kol Nidrei however was never issued on 78. There are a few trifling mechanical thumps for some moments but this is a most elegant and persuasive performance – perhaps just a trifle over-nuanced – and a splendid way to end this first volume, which has been transferred and restored by Mark Obert-Thorn with his accustomed expertise.

Jonathan Woolf



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