Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904) Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104 (1895) [36:02]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Double Concerto in A minor Op.102 (1887) [31:25]
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805) Cello Sonata No.4 in A G4 [7:59]
Pablo Casals (cello)
Jacques Thibaud (violin)
Pau Casals Orchestra/Alfred Cortot
Blas Net (piano)
rec. 1929, Barcelona (Brahms, Boccherini); 1937, Prague (Dvořák)

For the specialist all three of these recordings will be familiar; for the less initiated, the Dvořák will be the most well known. It’s certainly been transferred more often than either the Boccherini or the Brahms, and has probably been in the catalogue much of the time since it was made, in Prague, in 1937.

Do we need another transfer? As technology improves, the answer must be ‘yes’. That’s the rationale for this latest entrant from Pristine Audio. Whilst it certainly wasn’t the first recording of the concerto – that honour fell to Emanuel Feuermann – the one by Casals is, by common consent, the most prestigious historic performance. There have been some who remain unconvinced, but I have always found this a riveting performance to which to return. With the young George Szell to accompany him and Czechoslovakia’s national orchestra behind him, Casals plays with earthy power and reserves of lyricism. Given that it’s often been transferred recommendation remains difficult.

Partly it will depend on the coupled works. The Brahms Double Concerto most certainly was the first such to be put down on disc. Casals joined his trio confreres – Thibaud, and Cortot, who conducted Casals’ orchestra, in Barcelona in 1929. This memorable affair was completed over two days in May, the results appearing on HMV. It has quite often been absent from the catalogue, but it’s difficult to say why exactly. Partly it’s to do with the iconic nature of the Dvořák, which has tended to dwarf the Catalan’s recordings of the Brahms and the Elgar concertos, and partly, I think, to do with the nature of the work itself, which has often proved difficult to assimilate, especially in a 1929 recording. Except for specialists, most would rather turn to Oistrakh and Fournier or to Perlman and Rostropovich or a host of other combatants.

As for the Boccherini, Casals’ proselytizing – he was a devoted exponent of some of the composer’s works - must have worked serious magic on the succeeding generation of cellists; Piatigorsky for one, who followed Casals’ lead and played and indeed recorded Boccherini.

My reactions to these transfers are rather mixed. I find the Dvořák nicely forward but also aggressively spotlit. The Brahms recording was always somewhat problematic but the sound here has inconsistent hiss and ‘darkening’ moments when the sound sounds patchy. I’m also not sure whether some slight reverberation has been added.

Jonathan Woolf

For the specialist all three of these recordings will be familiar; for the less initiated, the Dvořák will be the most well known.