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Great Cellists - Casals
Beethoven; the Five Cello Sonatas; Minuet in G major
Brahms; Cello Sonata no 2 in F major Op 102 no 2
Pablo Casals, Cello
Mieczyslaw Horszowski, Piano CD 1 tracks 1-6; CD 2
Otto Schulhof, Piano CD 1 tracks 7-10
CD 1 TPT: 67’39”
Beethoven; Cello Sonata no 1 in F major Op 5 no 1 21’51”
1. Adagio sostenuto -
2. Allegro
3. Allegro Vivace
Beethoven; Cello Sonata no 2 in g minor Op 5 no 2 23’06”
4. Adagio sostenuto ed espressivo -
5. Allegro molto piuttosto presto
6. Rondo: Allegro
Beethoven; Cello Sonata no 3 in A major Op 69 20’06”
7. Allegro ma non tanto
8. Scherzo: Allegro molto
9. Adagio cantabile - Allegro vivace
Beethoven; Minuet in G major 2’34”CD 2 TPT: 67’14”
Beethoven; Cello Sonata no 4 in C major Op 102 no 1 16’13”
1. Andante - Allegro vivace
2. Adagio - Tempo d’andante - Allegro vivace
Beethoven; Cello Sonata no 5 in D major Op 102 no 2 21’37”
3. Allegro con brio
4. Adagio con molto sentimento d’affeto
5. Allegro - Allegro fugato
Brahms; Cello Sonata no 2 in f major Op 99 29’24
6. Allegro vivace
7. Adagio affetuoso
8. Allegro passionato
9. Allegro moltoCD 1 tracks 1-6 recorded in Paris; 19-21 June 1939
CD 1 tracks 7-10 recorded in Queens Small Hall studio C London;
6 & 7 March 1930
CD 2 tracks 1-2 & tracks 6-9 recorded in Abbey Road studio 3, London;
26-28 November 1936
CD 2 tracks 3-5 recorded in Paris; 21-22 June 1939
Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer - Mark Obert-Thorn
Naxos Historical 8.110949-50 Naxos

Very few figures in musical history of the recording age have been able to acquire such a reputation as the Catalan cellist Pablo Casals. Maybe only Enrico Caruso came close to such all pervading dominance of his field. Given this significance, and the fact that the Beethoven cello sonatas were popularised in the early twentieth century by Casals, this transfer of recordings made in the 1930s proves a fascinating historical document. Of course it also poses its own problems. Essentially there is the dilemma as to how listeners today should approach these historic recordings. On the one hand, we have here some of the finest interpretations of these works ever, performed by musicians of the first rank at the height of their creative and interpretative powers. On the other hand we have technology of the 1930s with which even the cleverest of restorations can only do so much, and a performance style quite different from that of our own times.

This dichotomy leads to a situation where the listener is called upon to contribute more than usual to the process of absorbing the recording. For starters, although Mark Obert-Thorn has done a commendable job in transferring from 78s to CD without compromising the quality of the instrumental sound (particularly noting the avoidance of a ‘tinny’ bass) there is still a fair degree of surface noise that is invariably distracting. The listener must listen through that surface to get at the true sound. Similarly, the technology of the time favoured the cello as a soloist at the expense of the piano part. In both Beethoven and Brahms this was not what the composer intended and there are places here where the balance is certainly less than satisfactory. Furthermore, in personal opinion (and it may be considered something approaching heresy to say so) this writer does not much care for the sound Casals makes in the upper register. This is particularly the case in the Beethovens, where, although never lacking in the fire and passion for which Casals was famous, the nasal quality of some of the upper register playing is not as enjoyable as many more modern performers achieve.

As a document recording the work of the early 20th century’s undoubted giant of the cello, this is a commendable disc. As a recording of the Beethoven cello sonatas it is not as recommendable as more modern recordings. Of interest to note however, is that the recording of the Brahms second sonata, which appears at the end of CD 2, is a ravishing performance by any definition and would be hard to better even in the finest modern recordings. A hugely intense reading it gives the impression of an immediacy that defies its creation in the recording studio of the late 1930s. Throughout the discs, the piano playing of Mieczyslaw Horszowski is an exemplary partner to Casals’ drama. The balance problems mentioned above (only a matter of engineering fashion at the time) are unfortunate indeed but Horszowski was himself such a consummate artist that he all but overcomes the forced demotion to mere ‘accompanist’. Again, it is the piano playing in the Brahms that provides the highlight for this writer. A fascinating document, possibly worth the price for the Brahms alone, but for the Beethovens, probably only for enthusiasts.

(Peter Wells)

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