About this Recording
8.110987 - CASALS, Pablo: Encores and Transcriptions, Vol. 5: Complete Acoustic Recordings, Part 3 (1920-1924)
English 

Pablo Casals - Encores and Transcriptions • 5
(Complete Acoustic Recordings • 3)

 

The early 1920s were difficult years for the great cellist Pablo Casals, as he faced many conflicting pressures. His European agents were all wanting him to re-establish his career on this side of the Atlantic, after the horrific disruption of the Great War. His move back to Barcelona in the autumn of 1919 had caused further strains in his marriage to the concert singer Susan Metcalfe, as she did not really feel at home among his family and his Catalan friends, and he was desperately trying to start his own orchestra in Barcelona in the teeth of opposition from entrenched interests. By the end of 1919 he had selected his 88 musicians and had decided to finance the orchestra himself, which meant that he needed his lucrative tours of America more than ever. The first three tracks on this disc were recorded during his first post-war visit to New York. On his return to Catalonia he intended to start rehearsing the orchestra, but he collapsed with a combination of illness and nervous exhaustion. Rehearsals finally got under way in the autumn of 1920 and the initial concert was given on 13 October, but at the end of the orchestra's short first season Susan Casals left for New York without her husband. Depressed and ill, Casals cancelled his forthcoming US tour, so there were no recording sessions for Columbia in 1921. He returned to their New York studios in 1922, 1923 and 1924, but when he again recorded in February 1925, it was for the rival Victor Talking Machine Company. No one is quite sure what led Casals to switch record labels, but it was a logical move. Victor and its British affiliate His Master's Voice made up the most powerful classical recording conglomerate in the world and could offer him many more opportunities. And so it proved. Soon after Casals made the final two tracks on this disc, electrical recording came in and his beautiful cello tone could be captured with much greater fidelity. He made a series of electrical discs for Victor; and then came the long series of recordings for HMV which comprise his best-known discs. He did not return to the Columbia fold until the early 1950s.

The legendary Pau (or Pablo) Casals was born on 29 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; 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 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 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 Jesús de Monasterio. He made his Madrid orchestral début with the Lalo 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 soprano 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 1919 he returned to Catalonia and in 1931 he conducted his Orquesta Pau Casals in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in Barcelona, to mark the birth of the Spanish Republic. But the civil war and the Fascist victory caused a rift in his life and career. A humanitarian 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. But from 1950 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 22 October 1973.

Only a handful of the pieces in our programme were originally composed for the cello: the popular Gavotte by the great Bohemian cellist David Popper, Glazunov's Mélodie arabe, Op. 20, No. 1, Bruch's Kol Nidrei (cut to fit two 78rpm sides, like Casals's previous version) and Haydn's Adagio (cut to fit one side). The rest of them are transcriptions or arrangements. The Irish songs on Tracks 2, 3 and 5 were all associated with the legendary tenor John McCormack – Track 5 is often known as the ' Londonderry Air' and today most people sing the words beginning ' Oh Danny boy ', although McCormack made his own adaptation ' Oh Mary dear… '. Another popular ballad of the day was ' Oh, dry those tears ' by Mrs Teresa Ledbetter, who wrote under the name Teresa Del Riego. Casals 'sings' all four of these ballads as well as any vocalist, showing his wonderful command of parlando bowing. The Handel Minuet is performed with the most subtle rhythm and superb 'finish'; but perhaps the most beautiful track here is the transcription of MacDowell's famous piano piece ' To a Wild Rose ', Op. 51, No. 1, from Woodland Sketches, which Casals makes his own – as indeed he does Chopin's Nocturne. Elgar's Salut d'amour, also written for piano, was soon hijacked by the violinists – so who can blame Casals for making a takeover bid on behalf of the cello? Especially as he plays it with such good taste. Sgambati's Serenata Napoletana, Op. 24, No. 2 was for violin and piano in the first place. Mendelssohn's Serenade sounds like a song but is actually one of the Songs Without Words for piano. Brahms's Sapphische Ode, on the other hand, is one of his best-loved Lieder, and Cui's Berceuse is also a song. Of the two Tchaikovsky pieces, the Mélodie, Op. 42, No. 3, was originally for violin and piano, while the Autumn Song was one of the twelve piano pieces often known as The Seasons – although The Months would be more accurate. This one represents October. Of the two Victor sides, the Bach is the central section of the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, BWV 564, for organ: the transcription was made by the Russian pianist Alexander Siloti, pupil of Liszt and cousin of Rachmaninov. The orchestral Intermezzo from the opera Goyescas by Casals's Catalan friend Granados was arranged for cello and piano by the Catalan cellist and composer Gaspar Cassadó, Casals's favourite pupil.

Tully Potter

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Pablo Casals - Encores and Transcriptions • 5
(Complete Acoustic Recordings • 3)

CHOPIN (arr. Popper): Nocturne in E flat
Recorded on 30 April 1920. Matrix No. 49820; cat. 68024 D

CROUCH: Kathleen Mavourneen
Recorded on 1 May 1920. Matrix No. 79154; cat. 33008 D

MOORE : Believe me if all those endearing young charms
Recorded on 1 May 1920. Matrix No. 79155; cat. 33008 D

ELGAR: Salut d'amour
Recorded on 16 March 1922. Matrix No. 80158; cat. 33031 D

HINKSON: Would God I were the tender apple blossom
Recorded on 17 March 1922. Matrix No. 80159; cat. 33032 D

POPPER: Gavotte in D, Op. 23
Recorded on 17 March 1922. Matrix No. 98012; cat. 68025 D

RUBINSTEIN: Romance in E flat
Recorded on 30 January 1923. Matrix No. 80815; cat. 33031 D

MACDOWELL: To a Wild Rose
Recorded on 30 January 1923. Matrix No. 80817; cat. 33030 D

SGAMBATI: Serenata Napoletana, Op. 24, No. 2
Recorded on 31 January 1923. Matrix 80820; cat. 2036 M

DEL RIEGO: Oh, dry those tears
Recorded on 30 March 1923. Matrix No. 80816; cat. 2037 M

BRUCH: Kol Nidrei
Recorded on 3 April 1923. Matrices Nos. 98068 and 98069; cat. 68019 D

GLAZUNOV: Mélodie arabe, Op. 20, No. 1
Recorded on 3 April 1923. Matrix No. 80923; cat. 33030 D

HAYDN: Adagio from Concerto No. 2 in D Major
Recorded on 2 February 1924. Matrix No. 98117; cat. 68061 D

MENDELSSOHN: Serenade, Op. 67, No. 6 (from Songs Without Words)
Recorded on 2 February 1924. Matrix No. 81526; cat. 33048 D

BRAHMS: Sapphische Ode
Recorded on 2 February 1924. Matrix No. 98118; cat. 68089 D

TCHAIKOVSKY: Mélodie, Op. 42, No. 3
Recorded on 16 February 1924. Matrix No. 81571; cat. 33048 D

HANDEL: Minuet
Recorded on 16 February 1924. Matrix No. 81572; cat. 2036 M

TCHAIKOVSKY: Autumn Song, Op. 37, No. 10 (from The Seasons)
Recorded on 16 February 1924. Matrix No. 98122; cat. 68089 D

CUI: Berceuse, Op. 20, No. 8
Recorded on 18 February 1924. Matrix No. 81573; cat. 2037 M

Victor Talking Machine Company, Camden, NJ

BACH (arr. Siloti): Adagio (from Adagio and Fugue in C, BWV 564)
Recorded on 21 February 1925; Matrix No. C 31977; cat. 6501

GRANADOS (arr. Cassadó): Intermezzo from Goyescas
Recorded on 21 February 1925; Matrix No. C 31978; cat. 6501

 


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