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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Quintet in C major D956 (1828) [46.19]
Isaac Stern and Alexander Schneider (violins), Milton Katims (viola), Pablo Casals, Paul Tortelier (cellos)
Symphony No.5 in B flat major D485 (1816) [29.10]
Prades Festival Orchestra/Pablo Casals
rec. Prades, 1952 (Quintet) and 1953 (Symphony)
SONY CLASSICAL 82876 787592 [76.00]

 

One classic - and one slight disappointment. Thatís always seemed to me the right balance between these two Casals performances, the one directed by him, the other featuring him with a galaxy of like-minded string players.

Iíve always admired his later 1970 Marlboro performance of the B flat major symphony. Here he kills it with kindness rather as he, Stern and Primrose collaborated in killing Mozartís Sinfonia Concertante at Prades at around the same time.† This earlier Prades symphony performance is without first movement repeat and is rather scrappily played. Casals lacks Beechamís ineffable lightness and ťlan and Bruno Walterís sweetness Ė you can find the latterís 1960 Columbia Symphony performance re-released in the same series, coupled with the Unfinished. Part of the problem is the rather turgid basses, and the dragging rhythm generally. The horn fluffs in the second movement are of passing significance only Ė though doubtless Reiner-esque pedants will find them excruciating.

One feature of the performance Iíd not noticed quite as much as in this transfer, which is a tribute to its slight increase in definition and clarity, is the omnipresence of Casalsís grunting. Whilst one might admire the almost theatrical intensity Casals brings to bear in the slow movement the fact remains that Walter is no less expressive and he takes two and a half minutes less, in this movement alone. The finale is certainly not turgid, possessing a rather patrician control though it lacks once again that subtle rhythmic lift that gives zest and animation to the this movement.

The Quintet performance is cut from a different quality of cloth. The tension, the rubati and the caesurae are all part of the intense expressive commitment brought by these five stellar musicians. Obviously one can take a different point of view and many newcomers may be unconvinced by those moments of rhetorical drama that are so plainly on view. Few could really argue with the subtly liquid portamenti the violinists employ nor the highly romanticised phrasing in the slow movement. The ensemble is not watertight and neither is the intonation but the spirit is laden with feeling and generosity and donít neglect the dynamism of the Scherzo with its powerfully lyric central section; the bronzed seriousness of the phrasing, the rapt passion of the whole enterprise.

I donít find the DSD and SBM remastering has been able to clarify things quite as impressively as was the case in the Szell Mozart Symphony re-issue in this same series but this is partly to do with the respective ages of the recordings. Itís slightly clarified and improved, no question, but the differences arenít so major.

Jonathan Woolf

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