lalo casals cello sony

Édouard Lalo (1823-1892)
Cello Concerto in D minor (1876)
Enrique Casals (1892-1986)
Cello Concerto in F major (1946)
Jan Vogler (cello)
Moritzburg Festival Orchestra/Josep Caballé-Domenech
rec. October 2022, Lukaskirche, Dresden, Germany
Sony Classical 19658801582 [58]

As much as I admire the famous cello concertos in the repertoire, notably those by Dvořák, Elgar, Saint-Saëns and Shostakovich, I also value the opportunity of hearing lesser-known ones. Fitting that bill is this coupling of Édouard Lalo’s frequently recorded cello concerto with an unknown work receiving its world premiere recording by Enrique Casals, the younger brother of legendary Catalan cellist Pablo (1876-1973). This recording of the Lalo honours both the two hundredth anniversary of the composer’s birth and the fiftieth anniversary of Pablo’s death. As the soloist here is world famous cellist Jan Vogler, my expectations were high.

A contemporary of Schumann and Brahms, Lille-born Édouard Lalo was a composer of Spanish heritage. A select few of Lalo’s works have proved popular with soloists in the recording studio, including his most admired achievement, the Symphonie espagnole, a violin concerto in all but name from 1874. In recent decades I have rarely seen his works on programmes, especially in the UK. A composition that seems to be sliding to the edge of the standard performing repertory is his cello concerto which surely does not get the acclaim it deserves. Lalo wrote it in 1876 in collaboration with Belgian cellist Adolphe Fischer who introduced the work the following year in Paris. Pablo Casals admired and took up the work; in 1899, when he was in his early twenties, he journeyed to Paris for an audition with distinguished French conductor Charles Lamoureux and played him parts of it. Mightily impressed, Lamoureux directly engaged Casals as soloist who made his debut that year with the work, to great acclaim.    

The main influences over it are the traditional German Romantic school together with a frequently encountered flavour of Spanish folk music. In compelling form here, Jan Vogler conveys its fervent lyricism and adorns the work with passages of dazzling display. Bold and compelling, the opening movement Prélude is substantial at twelve and a half minutes. Vogler’s playing communicates a distinct sense of energy with an undertow of foreboding never far away. He savours the predominately contemplative disposition of the Intermezzo with its contrasting, elegant, dance-like passages. Beginning with an achingly poignant threnody for solo cello, the Finale swiftly transitions in weight and tempo into an adeptly composed Rondo. In Vogler’s hands, to me the vibrant, colourful character of the music evokes a Spanish fiesta.

The work has been recorded many times over the years and there are a number of recordings from a previous generation of cellists. Of those recordings I know, the most notable are by Pierre Fournier (Deutsche Grammophon, 1961); János Starker (Mercury Living Presence, 1963); Jacqueline du Pré (live 1973 Cleveland broadcast, released 1995 EMI); Heinrich Schiff (Deutsche Grammophon, 1976, Paul Tortelier (EMI, 1976) and Yo Yo Ma (CBS Masterworks, 1980). Standing out for the level of passion and boundless energy is Lynn Harrell with the Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Riccardo Chailly recorded in 1984 under studio conditions in the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin on Decca (c/w Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No. 2 & Fauré Elégie). Recorded in 2012 in Antwerp, another splendid account, high on verve and colour, is from Pieter Wispelwey on Onyx (c/w Saint-Saëns’s Cello Concerto No. 2& Berlioz the Roméo et Juliette (love scene). Of the more established recordings of the Lalo cello concerto, Lynn Harrell on Decca remains my first choice. Nonetheless this stylish and ebullient account by Jan Vogler is thoroughly compelling and deserves to join Harrell at the top of the pile.   

Enrique Casals was a violinist of note who also conducted and composed. In 1946, he wrote his cello concerto in F major subtitled ‘In Romantic Serious Style’ whilst staying on the Catalonia coast at his Sant Salvador beach house, now a Pablo Casals Museum. One might be surprised that brother Pablo didn’t play the work, but the celebrated cellist was at that time refusing to give concerts in Spain, in opposition to Franco’s regime. 

Jan Vogler was introduced to Enrique Casals’ cello concerto by conductor Josep Caballé-Domenech who showed him a manuscript copy in 2020 in New York and plans were made for a world premiere recording. It is a warmly engaging work with a cinematic character often reminding me of 1940s film scores by say Franz Waxman, Miklós Rózsa, Jerome Moross, Bernard Herrmann et al

Lengthy at fourteen and a half minutes, the invigorating opening movement bursts into life. Casals could easily be providing a depiction of the Sant Salvador coastline on the Balearic Sea and the neighbouring Catalan landscape. Marked Adagio doloroso, the lyrical writing of the second movement is steeped in melancholy and reminds me of Brahms. Coming as it did after the end of World War Two this outpouring of grief is surely Casals’ response to the death of someone close. Brimful of warmth and positivity, the Finale: Tempo di sardana is inspired by a Sardana a Catalan folk dance usually performed at festivals. In a performance full of vibrancy and colour, Vogler makes this music sparkle.

Barcelona-born Josep Caballé-Domenech has been chief conductor of the Moritzburg Festival Orchestra since 2018. Under him, the young players of the Moritzburg Festival Orchestra play with credit and can be justly proud of their contributions. Renowned and long-established as a recording studio, the Lukaskirche lives up to its reputation, the Sony engineering team achieving first-class sound. I notice that this 2022 recording session occurred on the thirtieth anniversary of the Moritzburg Festival. 

Vogler’s cello is a Stradivarius ex-Castelbarco, Fau (1707) and its beautiful tone is bolstered by his steadfast technique and innate musicality. My expectations before I heard this recording were already high, but they were exceeded by Jan Vogler’s compelling performances here.

Michael Cookson

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