ELGAR: Cello Concerto; BRAHMS: Cello Sonata No. 2; FAURE-CASALS: Après un rêve; GODARD: Berceuse (from Jocelyn); GRANADOS-CASSADO: Intermezzo (from Goyescas); SAINT-SAENS: The Swan (from Carnival of the Animals) – Pablo Casals, cello/ BBC Symphony Orchestra/ Sir Adrian Boult/ Mieczyslaw Horszowski, piano/ Nicolai Mednikov, piano – Pristine Audio PASC 648 (72:48) [www.priatineclassical.com] ****:
The reputation of cello virtuoso and conductor Pablo Casals (1876-1973) endures as a combination of artistic pre-eminence and ethical integrity, what Thomas Mann characterized as “the indissoluble union of art and morality.” Whatever stiffness in execution practiced by the cellists before him, Casals liberated cello technique by selective use of portions of his bow with his left-hand flexibility, percussive fingering, variations in his attacks on the note, expressivity of intonation, and rhythmically decisive energy. Casals possessed an innate sense of a work’s form and internal logic, and his interpretations conform to Rachmaninoff’s notion of “the point.” The seamless evolution of the music’s melodic, singing line became the hallmark of the Casals style.
Pristine collects a series of Casals performances, 1926-1945, many of which have had prior issue on the Biddulph and Naxos labels. Remastered by Andre Rose, these classic documents assume a new luster, and the deep resonance of Casals’ instrument, its capacity for rich volume, strikes us with a vigor and authority entirely unique in sound. The series of 1926 electrical recordings with pianist Mednikov exploits Casals’ extraordinary capacity to “maker tone,” projecting a luxurious and vibrant sonority into the works of Faure, Saint-Saens, Godard, and Granados, with the last of these rich in ardent, Iberian nostalgia. The Brahms sonata with Horszowski (28 November 1936) serves as a fine example of both artists’ assimilation of the Brahms style, always eminently vocal in character, with Horszowski’s remarkable ability to soften his keyboard patina, courtesy of his training with Leschetizky.
The Elgar Cello Concerto (14 October 1945) presents a document we must cherish, especially given Casals’ refusal to record during the War years as his personal expression of his resistance to fascist tyranny and to those who abetted it. The opening movement, Adagio; Moderato, enjoys an urgency and volatile sweep that invests into the performance a sensibility that both collaborators maintain throughout. Boult proves reliable and effective in both the martial and tender aspects of the writing, consistent in his emphasis of Elgar’s singing line. The two interior movements proceed cautiously, as if held in readiness for the outburst of emotion lying in wait in the expansive last movement. While there is no dearth of fine recorded performances – not the least of which from Casals’ star pupil Jacqueline DuPre – there will always be a special place for this reading by Pau Casals. A good, concerted survey of Casals’ recorded work of some twenty years in a career that extended into this artist’s old age.