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GASPAR CASSADO

Gaspar Cassadó began learning the cello with his organist-composer father and continued at the Barcelona Conservatory until he was nine or ten. With their other son also showing promise on the violin, the Cassadós moved to Paris to find the best musical tuition available. Gaspar was extremely privileged to be one of only three students (Suggia being another) whom Casals taught at that time, as his touring career took priority. Cassadó was especially struck by realising that Casals never performed a piece of music the same way twice. He called Casals his ‘spiritual father’ and their bond remained strong for some years. During his time in Paris he also studied composition with Ravel and Falla, and performed trios with his father Joaquín and brother Agustín, who learnt violin with Thibaud.

After World War I Cassadó began touring as a soloist and composing; his works include a cello concerto and a (more enduring) piece for cello and piano, Requiebros, which has been recorded by several cellists and bassists. Although he was modest about his writing he nearly always included one of his own works in each recital programme. During his first US visit in 1928 Mengelberg and the New York Philharmonic performed his Rapsodia Catalana and rated him alongside Albéniz, Turina and Mompou in the programme notes. In the 1920s and 1930s Cassadó was a regular soloist with the Orquesta Pau Casals in Barcelona and it seems that Casals was genuinely keen to promote his former student as both cellist and composer. Sadly the friendship broke down during the Spanish Civil War and World War II, when Casals was forced into exile and ceased most of his performing activities whilst Cassadó continued with his career in Italy and America.

Cassadó’s playing hints at its origins in the older style surviving to the early years of the twentieth century, whilst at the same time presaging some of the changes of more recent times. Critics and commentators have noted that he was more conservative than his mentor Casals, but less rigid than some of the German-trained cellists of his time. Olin Downes of the New York Times said ‘…great singers could envy him for his belcanto’. His earlier recordings, including the Dvořák Concerto (1935) and two rather dubious arrangements—Tartini’s Concerto in D (1935) and Schubert’s ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata set by Cassadó himself as a cello concerto (1929)—sound old-fashioned by modern tastes, with reasonably frequent and pronounced portamenti, a degree of tempo volatility and sparing vibrato. The 1956 performance of the Schubert arrangement, selected here, displays Cassadó’s later style: vibrato is somewhat slower, and portamenti largely absent, with the 2nd movement being noticeable much slower. The Dvořák does have a certain heroic quality: whilst the finale has technical weaknesses, the dark hues of the slow movement and the dramatic first movement make for compelling listening. The Tartini arrangement makes no concessions to the early style of composition, but orchestra and soloist bring to it a tonal intensity which is enticing. Cassadó’s own arrangement of the ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata is a curiosity indicative of a musical personality nurtured in a bygone era. He recomposes the work significantly, with entirely new phrases let into the texture to create ritornello-type passages and render the work a ‘concerto’.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)

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