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The Sound of Pablo Casals
Pablo Casals (cello) with accompanists
Track-listing below
EMI CLASSICS 9 78003 2 [4 CDs: 76:18 + 77:39 + 66:22 + 71:27]

It’s forty years since Pablo Casals’ death. Since that time there has been a wealth of Casals-inspired material made available. There have been new restorations of the Piano Trios, of the Bach suites, of the Prades material, both LP-derived and newly available, the acoustic recordings have been mined, especially by Biddulph, and the transcriptions and encore pieces by Naxos. Times have never been better for collectors who need the great cellist’s recordings on their shelves.
 
To mark the 40 years, EMI brings out this 4 CD box. Much of it seems to have been inspired by EMI’s Japanese wing as those discs re-mastered in 2003 largely bear the imprint of a Japanese EMI release. The only later re-masterings are the ‘Sardanes de concert’ LP contents, which date from 2009. These are certainly amongst the least well-known of Casals’ recordings.
 
For the rest we must expect the expected. The first disc couples the two best Romantic cello concertos, the Dvorák in the famous Prague recording with George Szell in 1937 and the Elgar, made soon after the end of WW2, in London, with Adrian Boult. Both transfers are familiar EMI work, a decade old now. To round out this first disc is Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, where he is accompanied by the LSO under the ailing Landon Ronald. Again this exists in multiple transfers. There’s a very cheap Dutton Vocalion, for instance, that houses the Elgar and Bruch, but I prefer EMI’s fuller, less constricted restoration.
 
The second disc moves from concertos to piano trios and conjoins Beethoven’s Archduke with Schubert’s B flat trio and ends with Beethoven’s variations on Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen. The Cortot-Thibaud-Casals trio was the most glamorous one of the age but if you are not satisfied with just three examples of its pedigree, then you will need the Naxos transfers of all the works they recorded. The Naxos transfers are hissier than the EMI, but have a more natural-sounding air to them. Disc three must inevitably contain some of those epochal Bach Cello Suites, works that Casals did so much to bring to the wider concert stage. I applaud the inclusion of the first, fifth and sixth, but surely no one will be content to forego the other three. Which leaves a possible dilemma for the potential purchaser now on two fronts: firstly the lack of the Piano Trios and now only half the Cello Suites.
 
This is an inevitable corollary of a four disc set such as this, which can’t be expected to be comprehensive. The other works are easily available elsewhere, in any case, not least from EMI itself. The last disc offers Encores and Showpieces and thus comes up in competition against the extensive series from Naxos. Briefly, no acoustics are included and the main focus is the series of discs Casals made in Barcelona in June 1929 where he was accompanied by the reliable Blas Net. A couple of other encore pieces were recorded the following year in London (Bach’s Air and Schumann’s Träumerei) with pianist Otto Schulhoff. Once again the EMI re-mastering is cleaner, the Naxos carrying more hiss but also room ambience, and the latter doesn’t suffer in terms of catching Casals’ tone. The remainder of this final disc is given over to the concert of Sardanes, Catalonia’s national dance music, which was supervised by Casals in his position of artistic director. Whether he conducted, exhorted or merely beamed approval I can’t say. We hear one of his own pieces, Festivola, three by his brother Enrique (one of which was dedicated to Pablo) and a few others by different writers which span the compositional years from 1908 to 1948. They are forthright, full of bird song and vast vibratos from the assembled wind players. The genre is insistent, but exciting. These are certainly out of the way recordings.
 
This is an attractive box, though as suggested earlier it offers a necessarily selective look at Casals’ art. In terms of programming it has two major concertos, two major piano trios though the trio wasn’t quite at its best in the Archduke, a good series of vignette pieces and those sardanes. So, there’s enough to be getting on with, though other transfers are sometimes preferable, and you’ll need all of the cello suites.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 
Track-listing
CD 1
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto in B minor Op.104 [35:55]
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Georg Szell, rec. 1937
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Cello Concerto in E minor Op.85 [27:51]
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Adrian Boult, rec. 1945
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Kol Nidrei Op.47 [11:54]
LSO/Landon Ronald, rec. 1936
CD 2
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trio No.7 in B flat, Op.97 Archduke [36:03]
7 Variations in E flat, WoO46 on ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’ [10:04]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Trio No.1 in B flat, D898 [31:14]
Jacques Thibaud (violin) and Alfred Cortot (piano), rec. 1926-28
CD 3
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cello Suite No.1 in G, BWV1007 [15:07]
Cello Suite No.5 in C minor, BWV1011 [22:13]
Cello Suite No.6 in D, BWV1012 [27:39]
rec. 1938-39
CD 4
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692- 1770)
Cello Concerto in D — III; Grave ed espressivo [4:08]
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Songs My Mother Taught Me arr. Grünfeld [2:41]
Nikolai RIMSKY KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Flight of the Bumblebee from The Tale of Tsar Saltan arr. Shirmer [1:09]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Sonata for violin and viola No.1 in C — III Tempo di minuetto arr. Piatti [3:54]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonata No.2 in A minor for solo violin, II Andante arr. Siloti [3:38]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Song without Words in D, Op.109 [4:31]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto Op.3 No.11 in D minor — II. Largo, arr. Stutschewsky [3:30]
Giuseppe VALENTINI (1680-1759)
Gavotte arr Piatti [1:52]
Blas de LASERNA (1751-1816)
Tonadilla arr. Cassadó [1:41]
Blas Net (piano), rec. 1929
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Träumerei from Kinderszenen [3:24]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Orchestral Suite No.3 in D, —II Air [3:46]
Otto Schulhoff (piano), rec. 1930
Sardanes de concert
Pablo CASALS (1876-1973)
Festivola (1908) [4:00]
Enrique CASALS (1892-1986)
Heroica (1919) [5:48]
Tarragona (1927) [3:22]
Lluny (1918) [6:32]
Julio GARRETA (1875-1925)
La Rosada (1902) [5:40]
Innominada (1915) [5:44]
Manel Saderra PUIGFERRER (1908-2000)
Dubte (1948) [5:47]
Cobla ‘La Principal de Gerona’/Pablo Casals (artistic direction), rec. 1955

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