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8.110976 - CASALS, Pablo: Encores and Transcriptions, Vol. 2 (1927-1930)
Pablo Casals - Encores and Transcriptions • 2
For a protean musician such as Pablo Casals, the cello with its fairly narrow repertoire, even more restricted in his time than today, could never be a sole means of musical expression. When he returned to Barcelona from Paris in 1919, the local need for a decent symphony orchestra became obvious, chiming with his own desire to spread his wings a little. He was not the only Catalan to see the necessity to raise musical standards. The violinist and composer Joan Manén and the violinist and conductor Eduardo Toldra were also active, but Casals was the most famous, and in setting up the Orquestra Pau Casals, he was prepared to lay his personal wealth on the line – he would subsidise it for its first decade. The orchestra made its début on 13th October 1920 and in spite of his relatively slim conducting experience, Casals made a success of it. By 1927 he was well enough known as a conductor for HMV in London to risk recording him in this rôle. The ‘bonus’ track on this disc features him directing the London Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, in the ideal acoustic of Kingsway Hall. There are imprecisions, one right at the beginning, but the performance has all the hallmarks of the Casals conducting style, fervour, vigorous rhythm and full-blooded string tone. Much of the programme, however, is devoted to the short cello pieces that Casals set down in 1928-30, the last of his series for the Victor Talking Machine Company, a prolific session held over several days in Barcelona with the Catalan pianist Blai Net (known outside the region by the Castilian version of his first name, Blas), and three London-made tracks with the Viennese musician Otto Schulhof, his regular European accompanist.
The legendary Pau (or Pablo) Casals was born on 29th December 1876 in Vendrell, a little town in Catalonia where his father was organist and choirmaster. ‘I owe nearly all my talent at music to the influence of my father’, he wrote. ‘As soon as I could walk he took me to all the services at the church, so that the Gregorian chant, the chorales and the organ voluntaries became part of myself and of my daily life.’ Carlos Casals taught Pau to sing, play the piano and organ and even compose, and at six the boy had mastered the violin well enough to play a solo in public. Fascinated by a broom handle strung like a cello, used by an itinerant Catalan musician, he described it to his father, who built him a little cello using a gourd for a sound-box. ‘On this home-made contrivance I learnt to play the many songs my father composed, and the popular songs which reached the village from the outside world.’ At the age of eleven he heard a real cello, which confirmed it was the instrument for him. His father bought him a small one and gave him lessons; and soon he began studying at the Municipal School of Music in Barcelona. Cello playing had not greatly advanced since the days of Luigi Boccherini. The invention of the spike or endpin had freed the body of the instrument from being gripped between the knees, so that it resonated more freely, but some players were still operating in the old way, without a spike. Worst of all, the bowing arm was restricted. ‘We were taught to play a with a stiff arm and obliged to keep a book under the armpit’, recalled Casals. While playing in a café trio to pay for his keep, he was heard by the composer Albéniz. Soon he had an ensemble of seven at a grander café, and it was while he and his father were looking for music for this band to play that he found an edition of the Bach solo Suites. He met Sarasate and with Albéniz’s help moved to Madrid, found a patron and became Queen Maria Cristina’s favourite musician, studying at the Conservatory with Tomas Bretón and Jesus de Monasterio. He made his Madrid orchestral début with Lalo’s Cello Concerto and in 1899 played it at the Crystal Palace in London and the Lamoureux Concerts in Paris. In 1901 he toured America and in 1905 he settled in Paris.
Hot-blooded and temperamental, Casals had a high-profile affair with his Portuguese pupil Guilhermina Suggia and a failed marriage to the singer Susan Metcalfe. In public he was quickly recognised as unique. Fritz Kreisler was making an impact with his subtle use of vibrato on the violin and Casals worked on similar lines with the cello, astonishing his peers with the freedom of his bowing, his use of ‘expressive intonation’ and his technical innovations. After studying the Bach Suites for a dozen years, he started performing them in public in the early years of the twentieth century, often programming one alongside a concerto. In 1905 he began playing trios with Alfred Cortot and Jacques Thibaud – their ensemble would last until 1934. For more than three decades Casals toured the world as the leading exponent of the cello. In 1931 he conducted his Orquestra Pau Casals in a Barcelona performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to mark the birth of the Spanish Republic, but the civil war and the victory of Franco caused a rift in his life and career. A man of deep principle who refused to play in Hitler’s Germany, Casals was implacably opposed to Franco’s régime and in 1939, threatened with execution if he returned to Spain, he went into exile in southern France. After World War II, feeling that Britain and America were appeasing Franco, he abruptly stopped playing in public, breaking off a London recording session with Haydn’s D major Concerto two-thirds done. From 1950, however, American admirers organized a festival around him at his new home town, Prades, and in his old age Casals had a new lease of life as chamber musician, teacher, conductor and musical guru. In 1956 he moved to his mother’s native country, Puerto Rico, and the following year he wed his young pupil Marta Montañez. He played in 1958 at the United Nations and in 1961 at the White House. He died in Puerto Rico on 22nd October 1973.
The ‘encore’ tracks here all present Pablo Casals at his peak, in his early fifties. A few of the pieces were written for the cello: the Mazurka by Popper, Requiebros by Casals’s star pupil Gaspar Cassadó, the Song Without Words by Mendelssohn and the two Boccherini movements. The latter are respectively the second and first of a three-movement sonata – someone in the nineteenth century worked out that Boccherini’s first movement made rather a good finale, but that meant ditching his original finale. The others are arrangements, many of them by famous cellists such as Piatti, Stutschewsky, Grünfeld, Pollain, Cassadó or Casals himself. Three are by the celebrated Russian pianist Alexander Siloti. The dance movements display Casals’s superb sense of rhythm, usually vigorous but often very subtle. In a number of the slower pieces we hear Casals’s wonderful parlando or ‘speaking’ quality, just one aspect of his mastery of the bow – the Tartini Grave ed espressivo is outstanding in this regard. Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfer preserves the cellist’s precipitate plunge from Dvoﬁák’s Songs my mother taught me into Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the bumblebee – these two pieces were originally on the same 78rpm side. The Beethoven Minuet was issued as the ‘filler’ for the Casals/Schulhof recording of Beethoven’s A major Sonata, Op.69. This programme of genre pieces is blessed, above all, by Casals’s beautiful tone: coming from a relatively humble background, he had the gift of simplicity, and he gave even the slightest piece of music his entire energy, without a hint of condescension.
The recordings in this collection were transferred from a number of different sources. The bulk of them came from various Victor prewar pressings: tracks 1, 2, 3 and 7 were taken from Orthophonic editions; Tracks 9, 10, 12 and 18 through 21 came from ‘Z’ pressings; and Tracks 8, 11, 13, 14 and 17 were from ‘Gold’ label pressings. The rare Tartini and Cassadó sides (Tracks 5 and 6) came from a Japanese Victor disc, while Tracks 15 and 16 were taken from a British HMV shellac. The source for Track 4 was a vinyl test pressing.
The original sound quality varies between the Camden, Barcelona and London sides, with the last having an almost startling presence, and the Spanish discs plagued by a backwardly recorded accompaniment and noisy metal mastering. This second volume of Casals’ complete 78rpm era electrical recordings of encores and transcriptions is concluded with one of the earliest examples of his conducting on disc.
Mark Obert-Thorn is one of the world’s most respected transfer artist/engineers. He has worked for a number of specialist labels, including Pearl, Biddulph, Romophone and Music & Arts. Three of his transfers have been nominated for Gramophone Awards. A pianist by training, his passions are music, history and working on projects. He has found a way to combine all three in the transfer of historical recordings. Obert-Thorn describes himself as a ‘moderate interventionist’ rather than a ‘purist’ or ‘re-processor’, unlike those who apply significant additions and make major changes to the acoustical qualities of old recordings. His philosophy is that a good transfer should not call attention to itself, but rather allow the performances to be heard with the greatest clarity.
There is no over-reverberant ‘cathedral sound’ in an Obert-Thorn restoration, nor is there the tinny bass and piercing mid-range of many ‘authorised’ commercial issues. He works with the cleanest available 78s, and consistently achieves better results than restoration engineers working with the metal parts from the archives of the modern corporate owners of the original recordings. His transfers preserve the original tone of the old recordings, maximising the details in critical upper mid-range and lower frequencies to achieve a musical integrity that is absent from many other commercially-released restorations.
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