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Pablo CASALS – Encores and Transcriptions ● 3
Complete Acoustic Recordings ● 1

Salut d’amour Op.12*

Largo from Xerxes *

Melody in F Op.3 *

Adagio from Concerto in D minor *

Kol Nidrei Op. 47 *

Spanish Serenade Op.11 †
The Swan

FAURÉ (arr. Casals)

Après un rêve

Träumerei Op.15 *

Mazurka in G minor Op.11 †

Liebestraum *

Air from Orchestral Suite No 3 BWV1068 *
Cello Suite No 3 BWV1009 (Prelude; Sarabande; Bourrée; Gigue)
Pablo Casals (cello), * with orchestra and unknown conductor
† with Charles A. Baker (piano)
Rec. 1915-1916, venue not given ADD
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110985 [63:14]

Pablo Casals was almost 40 when he made these acoustic recordings. During the next 57 years of his long life he acquired legendary status as a pioneering solo cellist, touring the world before settling in the south of France and establishing the Prades Festival after the Second World War. It is good to hear Casals in his prime and in transfers by Ward Marston which are almost miraculously vivid considering the age of the recordings. His playing has great grace, cultured intonation and a restraint that I sometimes found surprising.

This record has a double-billed title suggesting previous issues of encores and transcriptions, and that more acoustic recordings will be forthcoming. The recording of Après un rêve is an important document – this arrangement of Fauré’s song is probably now best known in the arrangement by Casals presented here. Kol Nidrei and Bach’s Cello Suite No 3 (from which we are offered four movements – presumably all he recorded at the time) are the most substantial offerings and arguably the items of greatest interest. Overall, the disc left me feeling sad that the recording conditions of the time favoured the relatively short and trivial.

Comparison of the solo Bach movements with Casals’s more famous EMI recording of the complete set of Cello Suites (made between 1936-9) are fascinating. Of course, it was Casals who "discovered" these pieces (initially in a second-hand shop) and he studied them for many years before even playing them in public. In the later recordings there is much more attack and obvious attempt at interpretation. After listening to the acoustic recordings, the later renditions had me on the edge of my seat. But the passage of time was not all gain and there was less rhythmic license and greater accuracy in 1915-6. For me, he achieved something closer to the spirit of the music in the earlier recordings - should this really be edge of the seat stuff? I was certainly left wishing he had recorded the whole of the piece (and the other Suites) instead of the likes of Handel’s Largo and Rubinstein’s Melody in F.

As indicated above, the sound is very good considering the period. There is a lot of hiss but no distortion and the ear soon adjusts. I found it more comfortable listening on a microsystem than on my "serious" hi-fi. The accompaniments are well in the background, particularly the small "pick-up" orchestra and sometimes it can be quite fun trying to work out which instruments are playing (is that a harp I hear at the beginning of Liebestraum?).

The documentation is a little short on precision, as shown by the listings above which are presented as given on the liner. For example, as one might expect, it is indeed Liszt’s Liebestraum No. 3 (although unclear who transcribed it) and I presume that one of the two pieces by Popper labelled as Op. 11 is in error. However, none of that should put one off acquiring this disc. Those interested in matrix numbers will be content and there are good notes on Casals’ career by Tully Potter. It is not made clear where these recordings were made although there is a strong implication in the notes that it was somewhere in the USA.

Thanks are due to Naxos for making essential history available at bargain price. If you are interested in the cello, this is a must.

Patrick C Waller

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