Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Great Cellists - CASALS
Double Concerto [30.57]
Cello Concerto [36.12]
Pablo Casals (cello)
Jacques Thibaud (violin) (Brahms)
Pablo Casals Orchestra of Barcelona/Alfred Cortot (Brahms)
Czech PO/George Szell (Dvorak)
rec 10-11 May 1929, Barcelona (Brahms); 28 April 1937, Prague (Dvorak)
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110930 [67.09]
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Humanity and character shine out from these recordings.

In the Brahms, Thibaud's piercing soprano tone is poignant, precise, virile and searching. Try 4.02 in the Andante. A very individual voice. Casals is discreet; not thrusting forward into the limelight. His way with the Brahms may be too low key for some but in its place there is a pliant and appealing vulnerability. The sixty+ years that divide us from pre-Civil War Barcelona slough easefully away as you listen. The orchestra is nowhere near as clunky as some reviews have suggested. If there are rough edges these are cancelled out by the passion of the playing. The orchestra had been formed for a decade before this recording was made and before the concert performance that preceded it. Casals principled self-exile from Spain must have been the more poignant as he listened to the 78s in his homes successively in France and South America.

The sound is not rich but, though much condemned on previous reissues, is respectable enough. This is aided by the work of producer and audio restoration engineer, Mark Obert-Thorn, whose ministrations also accomplish wonders with nobler metal in the Dvorak. In the Brahms my preference overall runs to the Fournier, Francescatti, Walter version. There was also, I seem to remember a very good, Leonard Rose/Stern version with the Philadelphia conducted by Ormandy. CBS-Sony were always good for Brahms and I always preferred these to the eminently praised Rostropovich/Oistrakh/Szell account on EMI. Were either of these Sonys ever issued on CD?

The Dvorak is another venerated classic recording … and deservedly. This was the first time I had heard this performance. The tonal spectrum is so much wider than for its discmate and you appreciate this in the way the woodwind and horns are captured. As an example listen to the weave of oboe and clarinet at the start of the Adagio. Casals allows himself a freer rein - taking a much more assertive standpoint than in the Brahms where his fellow trio artists (Thibaud and Cortot) were gathered around him. Rapture, that rare quality in recorded music-making, is much in evidence here. If there is a criticism it is Szell's tendency to push the tempi hard something to which he increasingly succumbed in his Cleveland reign.

A bargain and an easy winner as alternative versions of these works in anyone's collection.

Rob Barnett

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