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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (adapted from the Arpeggionne Sonata by Cassadó) (1928) [11.27 + 3.34 + 8.10].
Rosamunde D.797 (Overture and Excerpts) (1823): Overture, [5.56], Entr’acte No.1 [7.15], Ballet Music No. 1 [4.02], Entr’acte No. 2 [3.44], Entr’acte No. 3 [4.11], and Ballet Music No. 2 [4.12].
Overture to Rosamunde (The Magic Harp) (1820) [7.36]
Gaspar Cassadó (cello)
Hallé Orchestra/Sir Hamilton Harty
Recorded in the old Free Trade Hall, Manchester, 1st March 1929 (Concerto), 27th April 1928 (Rosamunde Overture and excerpts), and 30th April 1927 (Rosamunde Overture). ADD

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The Hallé’s own record label has given us, over the past few months, a number of very good discs, usually of modern performances recorded in very good digital sound. This one is not like that; it is one for the anorak brigade. Sir Hamilton Harty was held in exceptionally high regard in his day, and recorded, with his orchestra, for Columbia. This disc brings three of these sessions together and whilst they are not of prime interest to the general music lover, it does give us the chance to hear an arrangement of a popular chamber work for cello and orchestra as well as the Hallé at one of its so-called peaks of technical excellence.

The hype is somewhat overdone I am afraid, as the aural evidence does not support the words. The transfers of the original 78s appear to have been dulled down to remove surface noise. The sound is extremely primitive (dim) and it is difficult to imagine what the Hallé actually sounded like in the 1920s without a fair bit of imagination on the listener’s part.

Given that these recordings were made in four minute or so slices with no chance to repair any slips, it is clear that the Hallé was not a bad orchestra in the 1920s. The problem is that standards have changed and dramatically so. By present day attainment the standard of playing as evidenced here is pretty basic.

By comparison with an illustrious contemporary (the LSO in EMI’s Elgar Edition, made around the same time) the standards and commitment of playing are inferior and this despite technically speaking Elgar not being Harty’s technical equal as a conductor. EMI’s transfers admit a lot more surface noise which significantly brightens the sound, permitting a much more accurate appreciation of the music.

Based upon a comparison of the two issues, the Hallé Tradition issue is disadvantaged by the dimness of the sound. I would advise anyone contemplating buying this issue to try to hear it first, as you may be bitterly disappointed. Turning up the treble on my amplifier made a slight difference (positive) but not enough to rectify the position.

Gaspar Cassadó does not have the reputation with music lovers that he might otherwise have had. This was due, unfortunately, to a mis-communication with Pablo Casals. His fame and also the number of recordings he made were severely curtailed, such that apart from a two disc set of works for cello and orchestra on a Vox double album, there is very little of his playing currently available. There are also one or two discs of his playing chamber pieces with Myra Hess and others of the same era.

During the war, Casals apparently published a letter in the New York Times accusing Cassadó, incorrectly as it was later found, of living in the Fascist territories and of having made himself a brilliant career in Germany, Italy and Franco’s Spain. In spite of an immediate rebuttal, the damage was done and his career was almost finished. He was later reconciled with his hero, but the long term effect was that now we hear very little of this outstanding artist. In addition to playing the cello. Cassadó was also very active in making arrangements, and the present example of his work is welcome. He has taken Schubert’s Arpeggionne Sonata and arranged it for cello and orchestra. Whilst it in no way sounds like an original orchestral work of Schubert, it is nonetheless welcome. It would make a good work to be freshly recorded and made available on the Hallé label, using the current band. The Rosamunde Overture is in a different class, and is a more encouraging example of Sir Hamilton Harty’s art than the remainder of the disc.

I can only give this disc a guarded welcome. It is a pity about the recording quality

John Phillips


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