Casals Philips Legacy Eloquence ELQ4842348

Pablo Casals (cello)
The Philips Legacy
rec. 1956-61
ELOQUENCE 4842348 [7 CDs: 378]

Here, on 7 CDs, are the late Philips recordings of Pablo Casals, collected in their entirety in one place for the first time. The great cellist was in his early 80s when, the year after suffering a heart attack, he returned to the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn in September 1958 to inaugurate several LP’s worth of recordings. Whether you consider this an exercise of indomitable will or pure vanity in the face of all aural evidence – or possibly both – will depend on the sympathy you extend to Casals and the extent to which we must regard old and imperfect performances as relics of once great musicianship: whether the concept of ‘musicianship’ itself, in fact, transcends such mere matters as technique. See under: Szigeti, J.

The first CD contains Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas, Op 5 No 2 and Op 102 No 2. He had already recorded two sets of the complete sonatas, the first pre-war with Horszowski (with Otto Schulhoff taking over the piano duties in No 3) and in post-war years he set down the whole cycle again on LP with Rudolf Serkin. His groans have grown ever more distracting and tonally he is immeasurably coarser than he had been. With a cramped and boxy acoustic, there’s really no reason to prefer these recordings to his earlier ones.

Casals, however, had not recorded Beethoven’s Piano Trio in C minor and the Horn Sonata in F major, arranged by the composer for cello and these are therefore centrally important elements of his post-war discography. For the former he was paired with Mieczysław Horszowski and Sándor Végh, who was filling in for Alexander Schneider, who had refused to go to play in Germany. But in all honesty, and despite the pianist’s best efforts, the tonal incongruity of the two string players defeats ensemble and the boxy acoustic – a regular feature of the Beethoven-Haus recordings – defeated Philips. Casals’s endemic gruffness is apparent in the Horn Sonata, where he struggles to phrase eloquently – though he can still sustain intermittent elegance.

There are two performances of the Ghost trio, the first with his regular trio from the Beethoven-Haus sessions and the second with Swiss pianist Karl Engel replacing Horszowski in Prades in July 1961. Both these recordings and that of the Archduke (from the Beethoven-Haus) do, however, display phrasal felicities and exchanges between the musicians that reflect continued engagement and study. Possibly because Casals was now three years older in the Ghost Trio at Prades, with Engel, the repeat in the first movement is jettisoned. The Cello Sonata No 1 with Wilhelm Kempff is from the Prades session and has already been reissued by Eloquence in their Kempff box (review).

CD 5 houses the Schubert Quintet with Casals joining the Végh Quartet for their only preserved recording of the work, taped in Prades in July 1961. Like everything, with the single exception of CD 6, it’s in stereo. Casals’ earlier 1952 Prades recording with Stern, Schneider, Katims and Tortelier is generally reckoned to be the one to have, and this later one (Casals also recorded a third post-war performance) has a full complement of groans and intonation concerns. However, it has Végh himself, a leader of exceptional insight, and he proves an eloquent exponent.

The mono CD 6 offers a Hommage disc. There’s a long 25-minute rehearsal sequence of Fauré’s Elégie for Cello and Orchestra during which Casals insists on felicities of phrasing and voice leading. The solo cellists in his ensemble contain some luminaries of the day, or earlier days, and include Paul Bazelaire, Maurice Maréchal (who was nearing the end of his own performance career), Gaspard Cassadó – with whom Casals had argued but had forgiven – Rudolf von Tobel, Étienne Pasquier, André Lévy, and a number more including Guy Fallot. The rehearsal is followed by the performance, which is rather beautiful. Two of Casals’ own pieces follow, with a vast ensemble of 102 cellos assembled by Philips – shades of Charles Mackerras and those midnight-flitting 26 oboists turning up to record the Royal Fireworks music. The final piece is the Sarabande from Bach’s Fifth Suite – touching but utterly fallible.

For the last disc Casals sat to direct two cello concertos. Maurice Gendron recorded the Haydn Second Concerto in his own edition of Haydn’s original and Boccherini’s B flat major de-loused of Friedrich Grützmacher’s accretions. The orchestra is the Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux, and the opening tutti of the Haydn made me think – I’ve not heard the LP in ages – that Casals was going to open up a Big Band approach but in fact he’s a helpful, adept conductor and Gendron employs his own cadenzas and plays – as he invariably, customarily did – with flawless intonation and tonal refinement. The Boccherini emerges all the stronger for his restoration work; his bowing here is superb and again the cadenzas are his own. A lovely disc.

In the end some musicians (see, once more, Szigeti, J) simply don’t know when to stop recording. Stage communicators and convulsive personalities they continue to perform long after their technical command has withered. It’s rare to come across artists who know when their time is up but there are some: Heifetz, for example, or nearer to our own time, Janet Baker. Casals was a memorable musician but his pre-war discs, which have been splendidly transferred by other labels, mark out his greatness. These Philips recordings have been lovingly assembled and restored, and have honest notes from Tully Potter, but there’s only so much you can do with faulty playing and a boxy acoustic.

Jonathan Woolf

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CD 1
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Cello Sonata No 2 in G minor, Op 5 No 2
Cello Sonata No 5 in D major, Op 102 No 2
Pablo Casals (cello); Mieczysław Horszowski (piano)
rec. September 1958, Beethoven-Haus, Bonn

CD 2
Piano Trio No 3 in C minor, Op 1 No 3
Mieczysław Horszowski (piano); Sándor Végh (violin); Pablo Casals (cello)
Cello Sonata in F major, Op 17 (Transcription of Horn Sonata, Op 17)
Pablo Casals (cello); Mieczysław Horszowski (piano)
rec. September 1958, Beethoven-Haus, Bonn

CD 3
Piano Trio No 5 in D major, Op 70 No 1 ‘Geistertrio’ (Ghost)
Trio No 7 in B-flat major, Op 97 ‘Erzherzog Trio’ (Archduke)
Mieczysław Horszowski (piano); Sándor Végh (violin); Pablo Casals (cello)
rec. September 1958, Beethoven-Haus, Bonn

CD 4
Piano Trio No 5 in D major, Op 70 No 1 ‘Geistertrio’ (Ghost)
Karl Engel (piano); Sándor Végh (violin); Pablo Casals (cello)
Cello Sonata No 1 in F major, Op 5 No 1
Pablo Casals (cello); Wilhelm Kempff (piano)
rec. September 1958, Beethoven-Haus, Bonn

CD 5
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
String Quintet in C major, D.956
Végh Quartet; Pablo Casals (cello II)rec. July 1961, Église Saint-Pierre, Prades

CD 6
Hommage à Pablo Casals
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Elégie for Cello and Orchestra in C minor, Op 24
Rehearsal and Performance
Solo Cellists: Paul Bazelaire, Maurice Maréchal, Gaspard Cassadó, Rudolf von Tobel, Étienne Pasquier, André Lévy, Gaston Marchesini, Guy Fallot, Charles Bartsch, Jean Vaugeois
Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux/Pablo Casals (cello/conductor)
Pablo Casals (1876-1973)
Les Rois mages
Ensemble of 102 Cellos/Pablo Casals
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Sarabande from Cello Suite No 5, BWV 1011
Pablo Casals (cello)
rec. October 1956, Grand Amphithéâtre de la Sorbonne, France
All mono

CD 7
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Cello Concerto No 2 in D major, H.VIIb No 2
Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)
Cello Concerto in B-flat major, G.482
Maurice Gendron (cello)
Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux/Pablo Casals
rec. October 1960, Maison de la Mutualité, Paris