Pablo Casals: A Concert at the White House
Felix MENDELSSSOHN (1809-1847)
Piano Trio No.1 in D minor, Op.49 (1839) [31:46]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Concert Pieces (Suite) for cello and piano - arr. Paul Bazelaire from the Pièces en concert [14:41]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Adagio and Allegro in A flat major, Op.70 (1849) [10:42]
Song of the Birds (El cant dels ocells) [3:25]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Trio in G major, Hob.XV/25 (1795) [13:16]
Alexander Schneider (violin), Pablo Casals (cello), Mieczyslaw Horszowski (piano)
Jacques Thibaud (violin), Pablo Casals (cello), Alfred Cortot (piano) (Haydn)
rec. 13 November 1961, White House, Washington DC; Haydn: Paris, 1926
MINUET RECORDS 428408 [72:35]

Pablo Casals’s concert at the Camelot Court of JFK took place on 13 November 1961 and was recorded, subsequently being released on a Columbia LP. A facsimile of the LP cover and the complete liner notes are reproduced in this reissue from Minuet Records and a newly commissioned four-page mini-biography of Casals has been provided.

The liner-notes were not the place to delve into too much detail regarding the labyrinthine politics of the preparation for that evening, though subsequent biographies of Casals have elucidated the complexities involved - and the compromises made - to enable Casals to attend at all. In the end he appeared, accompanied by his Prades confreres Alexander Schneider and Mieczyslaw Horszowski.

They played a brief programme lasting an hour. The Mendelssohn D minor was central to Casals’ chamber repertoire, a work he had played for much of his professional life. His famous 1927 recording with Jacques Thibaud and Alfred Cortot was faster all round though the much more recent 1960 performance, taped at Prades with Sándor Vegh and Karl Engel, was very similar in outline to the White House reading, although the Prades performance is more subtle rhythmically. In what was in effect Casals’ swan song as a cellist – he was give just a couple more performances, one at the United Nations when he played Song of the Birds – it’s still remarkable to hear him summon up mental and physical strength for what must have been, even for these three men, a strangely formal and stilted occasion. Casals’ groaning vocal portamentos fleck much of the slow movement, providing a kind of sobbing obbligato to music-making that is somewhat compromised with regard to ensemble – unsurprisingly, in the circumstances.

The Couperin pieces were arranged by cellist Paul Bazelaire, who had died a few years earlier. Casals’s tone was invariably thinning by now, but it was certainly not threadbare, and his sense of legato is undiminished, albeit once again accompanied by huge anticipatory moans and groans. The raw and dry tone for the Tromba is appropriate and the Pleinte is attractively played with Horszowski sticking close to the cellist. Together they perform a ripely romanticised Schumann Adagio and Allegro, Op.70, its resinous Allegro section bowed with apt incision. Casals signs off, accompanied again just by piano, with his signature Song of the Birds, a wonderfully warm and expressive account, a summation of his gifts as a communicator and focal point. He groans along at points so loudly he almost drowns out his cello.

To get the disc up to the 70-minute-plus mark Minuet has included a serviceable transfer of the 1926 Casals-Thibaud-Cortot recording of Haydn’s Trio in G major. It’s been much reissued over the years so you’ll doubtless already have it and will overlook the typo that has misspelled the violinist’s surname.

Jonathan Woolf

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