, June 2005
"Casals was one of the great singers: he simply chose to sing on the cello rather than with his voice'. So writes Tully Potter in the accompanying notes to this release. Time and time again over the course of this disc's 77-minute duration, he is proved right.
Ward Marston gives a longer than usual explanation of the choices he was faced with in transferring these discs, from the use of declicking on some tracks to the speeds at which the records should be reproduced. Suffice it to say that the end results are eminently musical. True, one has to suffer a fair amount of surface noise at times, but the ear does attune and when it does one can only marvel at Casals' expressive palette. This is a palette that includes what Pitter refers to as `expressive intonation', an effect that turns up in the Schumann `Abendlied', given a lovely, crepuscular performance both times here. A pity that on the first occasion especially the accompaniment recalls pea-soup, if you follow me.
The most special tracks are those that exude the nonchalance of greatness. This is nowhere better demonstrated than in the Mendelssohn Spring Song, a breath of fresh air. It is rivalled only, by the excellently shaded account of `Tr„umerei', this latter certainly a highlight of this disc for this reviewer. There is the ease of the Master, also, in such deceptively easy-on-the-ear works as the Haydn Minuet in C; the very first track on this CD. Superb articulation and a massive sense of musicianship overwhelms the sound quality - one has to strain to hear the piano in the background.
The limitations of sound-quality should be mentioned without implying undue harshness of criticism, given the dates of these recordings (1916-20). In the Haydn Concerto, for instance, I can just make out what I suspect are flutes. Yet set that against Casals’ wondrous sense of line ... Similarly, Casals’ Swan suffers from huge noise, yet it is hypnotic playing; the close is pure magic. Of the two Mozart Larghettos (from the Clarinet Quintet), it is the second that seems more surface-noise ridden – more seriously on the second occasion Casals’ tone seems more nasal.
In repertoire terms, the Cantilena from Goltermann’s A minor Concerto (No. 1 of eight!) is interesting simply because it has fallen out of the repertoire today yet was clearly held in regard at the time of recording. Goltermann was a German cellist who, on this evidence, produced highly attractive scores (a list of his works can be found here here but be warned the text is in Czech). The Rubinstein/Popper represents the salon side of Casals, very Romantic, with the cellist clearly enjoying himself – and enjoyment that flies across the years and into our living rooms. And really, the Liszt Liebestraum is brought into this arena. It is just Casals’ sort of thing. He reaches the stratosphere around 2’25 in, and yet is infinitely agile up there. Liszt, surely, must be smiling somewhere.
Of course when listening critically there are stylistic considerations that one must take into account. Does the Boccherini sound like Boccherini? No, of course it doesn’t, not for a millisecond of its four minutes. But that is not to imply that one cannot enjoy this for what it is. Handel’s Largo from Xerxes is similarly ‘of its time’, but how wonderful is Casals’ shading of the line. The only miscalculation seems to be (ironically) the very last track of this disc, the Bach ‘Air’ from Suite No. 3. To say the orchestra plods along is to understate matters, and it almost sounds as if the accompaniment is scored for strings and brass band. If Casals is expressive enough, surely this is musically no way to end although the tracks are presented in chronological order and for this reason it was presumably unavoidable.
Well worth hearing for many, many reasons. As part of the documentation of great cellists; as part of the documentation of great musicians; as an example of how repertoire choices change over the years. Now that last point offers fruitful food for thought. Maybe someone would like to play the Goltermann complete?"