This sensational new release from German cellist Alban Gerhardt recaptures the novelty of the much-loved encores performed by Pablo Casals. Spanish-born Casals was universally recognized as one of the world’s greatest cellists and had a vast repertoire of intimate encores which were adored by his audiences. The disc features transcriptions of works by many notable composers including Fauré, Chopin, Saint-Saëns, Boccherini and Wagner. Also featured are frequently performed musical gems by David Popper: Vito, Chanson villageoise and his Mazurka in G minor, pieces which have gained a special place in the cello literature.
Gerhardt performs these miniature masterworks with extraordinary finesse and verve. His very personal interpretations never lapse into self-indulgence and he projects a distinctive luminescence of tone with infallible intonation. Gerhardt is intelligently partnered and perfectly matched by pianist Cecile Licad on her Hyperion debut. This unique disc demonstrates sublime musicianship, with both performers revelling in a wide expressive scope from the vivacious to the lyrical.
Luigi Boccherini was born in the Tuscan city of Lucca in 1743 and, after studying in Rome and spending time in Vienna, he visited Madrid for the first time in 1769. After living in Spain for less than a year he was appointed cellist and composer to the Infante, Don Luis, the younger brother of King Charles III. It was at about this time that many of Boccherini’s sonatas for cello were published in London, including the one in A major which contains the Allegro moderato that was a favourite encore of Casals’. Although Boccherini’s cello sonatas appear in contemporary manuscripts in just two parts, the solo cello joined by an unspecified ‘basso’ string instrument (either a second cello or a double bass), many were later published with (anonymously arranged) keyboard accompaniments.
Frédéric Chopin composed his three Nocturnes Op 9 between 1830 and 1832. Casals frequently played the second of these, the famous Nocturne in E flat major, as an encore in the highly idiomatic arrangement by the influencial cellist and composer David Popper, who became the leader of the Hungarian cello school while teaching at the Conservatory at Budapest. Many of Chopin’s twenty-four Preludes, Op 28, were composed at Valldemosa during an ill-fated holiday on the island of Majorca with George Sand in the winter of 1838–9. In her recollections of that holiday, Sand maintained that it was the sound of rain pounding on the roof that had inspired Chopin to compose the fifteenth of these Preludes, which became known as the ‘Raindrop’. This arrangement is more literal than Popper’s transcription of the Nocturne, with effective use of double stopping.
Four years before Chopin died, Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser received its first performance in Dresden. Wagner wrote both words and music for this opera, completing the libretto in April 1843 and the score during the spring of 1845. In his Act 3 song To the Evening Star (‘O du, mein holder Abendstern’), Wolfram von Eschenbach sings secretly of his love for Elisabeth, who is eagerly awaiting the return of Tannhäuser with whom she herself has long been in love. This arrangement for cello and piano was made by the German-American cellist Leo Schulz (1865–1944).
Eduard Lassen was born in Copenhagen in 1830 but was taken as an infant to Brussels where, at the age of only twelve, he enrolled at the Conservatory. In 1851 he won the Belgian Prix de Rome which enabled him to further his studies in both Germany and Italy, and, in Rome itself, to meet and become friends with Liszt. Lassen was later to succeed Liszt as Court Music Director at Weimar, a post he held until his retirement in 1895. As a composer, he was particularly known for his songs. Mit deinen blauen Augen (‘With your blue eyes’) is the fifth of five songs that Lassen dedicated to Duke Ernest of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the brother-in-law of Queen Victoria.
Camille Saint-Säens, who travelled to Weimar in 1877 to attend a production of his opera Samson et Dalila conducted by Lassen, composed his Allegro appassionato Op 43 for cello and piano or orchestra in 1873 and dedicated it to the French cellist Jules Lasserre. Le Cygne (‘The Swan’), composed for the elderly cellist Charles Joseph Lebouc, formed part of Le Carnaval des animaux, the grand zoological fantasy Saint-Säens wrote in 1886 to entertain his friends but not his public; during his lifetime, only Le Cygne appeared in print, the complete work not being performed until 25 February 1922, some two months after the composer’s death.
Another young musician to benefit from the encouragement of Liszt was Giovanni Sgambati. Born in Rome in 1841, Sgambati began playing the piano at the age of five. He first met Liszt in 1862 and before long had become both his pupil and friend. The two travelled to Germany in 1869 and there Sgambati first encountered the music of Wagner and, indeed, the man himself. So impressed was Wagner with Sgambati’s compositions that he immediately recommended them to his own publisher, Schott. The Serenata napoletana is the second of two pieces Op 24, originally composed for violin and piano and here transposed down an octave.
‘Whatever people’s opinion of David Popper’, declared Pablo Casals, ‘I will play his music as long as I play the cello, for no other composer wrote better for the instrument.’ Popper was born in Prague in 1843 and, as a child, learnt to play the piano and violin. However, when he went to study at the Prague Conservatory at the age of twelve, he was persuaded to take up the cello instead as there was a shortage of cellists in the city at that time. Popper became an internationally renowned virtuoso, and also composed many pieces for his instrument. One of the most popular, the Mazurka in G minor Op 11 No 3, he dedicated to Bernhard Cossmann who, like Leo Schulz, had been leader of the cello section of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. In 1912 Popper heard Casals play this Mazurka as an encore at a concert which had also included his effervescent Chanson villageoise. Vito, from the Spanish Dances Op 54, was another of Popper’s pieces often performed by Casals, its unassuming opening giving way to more virtuoso writing, including tremolando double stopping and running passagework high on the A string.
Gabriel Fauré composed songs throughout his long career, Après un rêve first appearing in print in 1878 as Op 7 No 1. Unfolding a seamless flowering of melodic invention, in Casals’ instantly famous arrangement from 1910 this becomes a glorious song without words.
Four years younger than Fauré, Benjamin Godard was a child prodigy—like Saint-Säens before him he was often compared to the young Mozart—and he was only fourteen years old when he enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire to study composition. His first instrument was the violin, but it was as a violist that he was to gain an enviable reputation as a performer of chamber music. Godard’s reputation as a composer, however, has proved less enviable and nowadays the one piece for which he is remembered is the tender Berceuse for tenor (‘Oh! ne t’éveille pas encor’) from his opera Jocelyn, first performed in 1888. This arrangement for cello and piano is the composer’s own, published in 1896.
In 1888 Edward Elgar composed a short piece originally called Liebesgruß (‘Love’s greeting’), to which he added a dedication ‘à Carice’—a contraction of the Christian names of his then fiancée Caroline Alice Roberts and also the name the couple later gave to their only daughter. The piece was published by Schott the following year, in versions for violin and piano, piano solo, cello and piano, and for small orchestra. Schott soon changed the title to Salut d’amour, with ‘Liebesgruß’ as a subtitle, whereupon it became one of the composer’s most popular, and most widely arranged, works.
The Romanze Op 35 by Edward MacDowell, dedicated to David Popper, was also composed in 1888. Having failed to gain a post at the Royal Academy of Music in London—not only because he was considered too young but also because of his friendship with Liszt, who was considered too ‘modern’—MacDowell and his wife bought a cottage in the woods not far from Wiesbaden in which he was able to devote himself to composition. During this period, before returning with his wife to the USA, he completed several songs and piano pieces, two orchestral tone poems, his Second Piano Concerto, and this beautiful Romanze which is marked by a touching lyrical simplicity.
For a time MacDowell studied in Paris with Antoine-François Marmontel, whose piano pupils at that time also included Claude Debussy. By 1880 Debussy had also begun to study composition at the Conservatoire and, within four years, had won the Prix de Rome. In 1889 he completed his Petite Suite, a four-movement work for piano duet which was subsequently orchestrated by Henri Büsser. Recorded here is an arrangement by Gaston Choisnel (1857–1921) for cello and piano of the Menuet, the Suite’s third movement.
Enrique Granados first studied music in Barcelona, to the east of his home town of Lérida. Later he spent two years in Paris as a piano pupil of Charles de Bériot before giving his first recital back in Barcelona in 1890. As well as being a pianist and composer, Granados was an accomplished painter with an overwhelming admiration for Goya. This love of Goya’s paintings led him to attempt to translate them into music, firstly in pieces for the piano and then as an opera, both of which he entitled Goyescas. (It was after attending the first performance of the opera, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on 26 January 1916, that the ship bringing him home was torpedoed by a German submarine killing both Granados his wife.) The Danza española entitled Andaluza, the fifth in a set of twelve such Spanish dances for solo piano that form his Op 37, is one of the composer’s most famous pieces—widely arranged for solo guitar, violin and piano, and cello and piano.
In about 1910 Fritz Kreisler announced to the American press that ‘the king of the bow has arrived’, the bow in question belonging to Pablo Casals. Before long Kreisler had joined Casals and the pianist Harold Bauer in a trio which was to excel both in chamber music and performances of Beethoven’s ‘Triple’ Concerto. Kreisler was born in Vienna in 1875, studied at the Conservatoires both in his native city and in Paris, became a French citizen in 1938, an American citizen in 1943, and was the most famous violinist of his time. Early in his career, he started composing short pieces for his own recital use but, imagining that they would receive scant attention and practically no critical acclaim if his own name were attached to them, described them either as arrangements of folk songs or as transcriptions of works by long-dead composers such as Vivaldi, Rameau, Martini and Pugnani. Included amongst these are the Chanson Louis XIII and Pavane composed ‘in the style of’ Couperin. It is heard here transposed down an octave.
In 1907 Manuel de Falla moved from Spain to Paris, where he lived for the next seven years. He was befriended by Dukas, Ravel and Debussy and had a great success with La vida breve. Following the first performance of this opera, Falla was asked by a member of the cast—a singer from Málaga—to suggest some Spanish songs that she could include in a concert she was soon to give in the French capital. He set about composing Siete canciones populares españolas, the fifth of which is an Andalusian lullaby (or berceuse) entitled Nana. Casals performed this in the faithful arrangement by Maurice Maréchal, which we also hear on this recording.
While Pablo Casals had a considerable repertoire of encores from which to choose, there was one piece that he would always play. As he once explained: ‘I began the custom of concluding my concerts with the melody of an old Catalan carol, The Song of the Birds [‘El cant dels ocells’] cl. It is a tale of the Nativity; how beautiful and tender is that tale, with its reverence for life and for man, the noblest expression of life! In the Catalan carol it is the eagles and the sparrows, the nightingales and the little wrens who sing a welcome to the infant, singing to him as a flower that will delight the earth with its sweet scent’.
Peter Avis © 2011