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Gaspar CASSADÓ (1897-1966)
Requiebros (1929) [4:08]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Intermezzo, from Goyescas, (transcribed by Gaspar Cassadó) [4:25]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
Suite Populaire espagnole (transcribed by Maurice Maréchal) [12:15]
Oliver Sascha FRICK (b.1973)
Chasse au moment (2011, rev. 2012) [4:13]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pičce en forme de habanera (transcribed by Paul Bazelaire) [2:55]
Toshio HOSOKAWA (b.1955)
Lied III (2007) [7:33]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
‘Aprčs un ręve’, from Trois mčlodies, Op. 7, No. 1 (transcribed Pablo Casals) [3:01]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
‘Le cygne’ from Le carnaval des animaux (version for cello and piano) [3:13]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fünf Stücke in Volkston, Op. 102 [16:31]
Allegro appassionato, Op. 43 [3:44]
Rohan de Saram (cello)
Junko Yamamoto (piano)
rec. 2012, Chamber Music Hall, State University of Music and Performing Arts, Stuttgart

At first glance, the programme of this CD looks extremely miscellaneous, but if one reads Rohan de Saram’s notes in the booklet, a logic begins to appear. There are a number of separate, but related, networks of connection across the programme. The CD opens with the performance of a work by Gaspar Cassadó (a name we don’t nowadays hear as often as we should). The piece which gives the album its title, Requiebros’ was dedicated by the composer to his teacher, Pablo Casals. Rohan de Saram actually studied with both Cassadó and Casals; at the age of 12 he began studies with Cassadó in Siena and then, from 1956, with Casals in Puerto Rico. This is a clue that other connections of teacher and pupil exist elsewhere in the programme. In 1907, a scholarship enabled the 10-year-old Cassadó to move, with his family – his father was the composer Joaquin Cassadó – from Barcelona to Paris, to study with Casals. Cassadó also studied composition with both Falla and Ravel during his time in Paris and, fittingly de Saram’s recital includes works by both these composers – both as transcribed by significant French cellists, Maurice Maréchal and Paul Bazelaire, musicians who Cassadó surely knew during his years in Paris. Fauré taught Ravel and he is represented here too, by a transcription of the song ‘Aprčs un ręve’ from the Trois mčlodies; this time the transcription is by Casals!

As de Saram observes in his booklet notes, “Granados, Fauré and Saint-Saëns were composers… closely connected either as friends or as teacher-pupil with de Falla and Ravel”. It is, therefore, no surprise to find that both Granados and Saint-Saëns are also given a place in the programme. Granados appears in the form of Cassadó’s transcription of the Intermezzo from his opera Goyescas; Saint-Saëns is represented by ‘Le cygne’, from Le carnival des animaux, in an arrangement for cello and piano made by the composer, plus his ‘Allegro appassionato’ Op. 43.

Apart from the connections already alluded to, the work by Falla ‘activates’, as it were, a second connection. Just before Falla left Paris in 1914 he completed work on his Seite canciones espańolas, which are grounded in the varied traditions of Spanish folk music. Later, the violinist Paul Kochanski and Falla produced a transcription of six of these songs for violin and piano (omitting the second in the original sequence of songs, the ‘Seguidilla murciana’). What we hear on this disc is Maurice Maréchal’s transcription for cello and piano of the version made by Kochanski and Falla. In its use of Spanish folk material, it indirectly anticipates (not historically, but in terms of the CD’s sequence) a later work in the programme – Schumann’s Fünf Stücke im Volkston, Op. 102, which also makes creative use of what its title calls ‘popular-style’ (Volkston).

The two ‘networks’ outlined above account for the presence of all but two of the pieces recorded here. A third, small ‘network’ is made up of two more pieces: ‘Lied III’ by Toshio Hosokawa and ‘Chasse au moment’ by Oliver Sascha Fink. Rather as de Saram’s friendship and working relationship with Cassadó (the booklet reproduces an attractive 1953 photograph of Cassadó and the young de Saram, taken in Colombo) accounts in part for his commitment to the Catalan’s music and associations, so something similar seems to be at work where these two contemporary pieces are concerned. De Saram and Yamamoto played the bulk of this programme in September 2010 at the Takefu International Music Festival in Japan, of which the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa was the director; his ‘Lied III’ was added to their programme on that occasion. The German composer Oliver Sascha Frick was co-producer and recording engineer for this disc and, de Saram tells us that he “wrote a special piece for us to complete the album”. 

What emerges from these ‘networks’ is, I think, that de Saram has a personal connection with pretty well all of the music on this disc, either directly or via his two most famous teachers Gaspar Cassadó and Pablo Casals. Where the two works by Cassadó are concerned, de Saram’s booklet essay tells us that he plays from scores of his on which Cassadó has marked some alterations and that ‘Requiebros’ was “one of the few pieces which I studied with him and heard him perform many times”.

This sense of personal significance characterizes de Saram’s performances on this CD, full of engagement, affection and respect. De Saram glosses ‘Requiebros’ as “words or an expression of admiration”. Since in colloquial use it also means ‘flirtatious talk’ it can designate words more flattering than sincere or respectful. There is, though, no doubting de Saram’s sincerity and respect in these performances.

‘Requiebros’ certainly communicates a good deal of emotion. It is played rather in the manner one associates with Cassadó and Casals – the latter sometimes played the piece as an encore – including some limited use of portamento (if my ears don’t deceive me). De Saram’s copy of the score “contains the cut that [Cassadó] made to this piece just before the pp return of the 2nd subject in the high register of the cello. This is also the version that Cassadó used in performance”.

The whole CD is full of playing by de Saram which is impassioned and lyrical, but which is also thoroughly disciplined. Throughout, he is intelligently and sensitively accompanied by Junko Yamamoto. One result of this is that a work like Saint-Saëns’ Allegro appassionata sounds more substantial than it usually does, since it is most often played as a rather empty, ‘showy’ concert piece. Here there is some real depth of emotion, justifying the ‘appassionata’ of its title.

Elsewhere in this fine recital, one of my own particular favourites was Maurice Maréchal’s transcription of Falla’s Suite populaire espagnole. Maréchal – just to return for a moment to my earlier talk of a network of personal connections ‘hidden’ in this programme – was particularly associated with Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello (he was the cellist in its 1922 premiere). De Saram and Yamamoto certainly capture the Spanish flavours here.

The second movement ‘Nana’, phrased with simple eloquence by de Saram, is an affecting lullaby (which is what the word Nana means) with some attractive Andalusian touches. More obviously Andalusian is the fourth brief movement, ‘Polo’ (the ‘polo’ being a flamenco form related to the better known ‘cańa’). The most obvious echoes of flamenco come in the piano part where some of the writing has clear echoes of flamenco guitar style. The vocal quality of de Saram’s playing is striking and apt. Very different from the speedy ‘Polo’ is the fifth movement ‘Asturiana’ in which cellist and pianist create a quality of deep and melancholy introspection. Despite having gone through two stages of transcription, first by Paul Kochanski and Falla and then by Maréchal, this performance feels like a perfect wordless embodiment (a true song without words) of the original anonymous lyrics set by Falla:

Por ver si me consolaba,
Arrime a un pino verde,
Por ver si me consolaba

Por verme llorar, lloraba.
Y el pino como era verde,
Por verme llorar, lloraba.

(In search of consolation,
I approached a green pine,
in search of consolation.
When it saw me weep, it wept too.
That pine, being green,
when it saw me weep, it wept too.
[My translation]

I was also struck by Frick’s ‘Chasse au moment’ (Hunting the moment?) - of which this is, of course, the premiere recording. The two instruments chase one another in a vain attempt to capture the moment, to “freeze the moment” in the composer’s words. But, of course, any attempt to detain, to hold on to, the moment is futile and, paradoxically, will result in hectic movement and, as in most hunting, the ‘death’ of whatever is chased. ‘[C]apturing’ the moment is of course, essentially impossible in a time-based art like music, but the impossible is surely the very thing most worth attempting – and Frick’s inevitable ‘failure’ is an interesting one.

Elsewhere, the Casals transcription of Fauré’s ‘Aprčs un ręve’ is beautifully played, with real delicacy – its emotions perhaps a little more restrained than they are in the recorded performances by Casals that I have heard – but the music is still full of romantic yearning, as articulated in a dream vision. Another wonderful ‘song without words’.

As suggested above, we are also treated to a full-blooded reading of Saint-Saëns’ ‘Allegro appassionata’. Like several other items in this programme this piece was frequently played as an encore by Pablo Casals, as were ‘Le cygne’, Falla’s ‘Nana’ and the intermezzo from Goyescas. De Saram surely heard Casals play these pieces a number of times – emphasizing again how much this is a programme built around music with which de Saram has a strong personal connection.

This recital was recorded when Rohan de Saram was already in his seventies – his 80th birthday fell, by my calculations, in 2019.

This is amongst the very best recorded recitals of short pieces for cello and piano that I am familiar with. I feel sure that all who have a particular love of the cello would take much delight in Requiebros.

Glyn Pursglove

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