Pablo Casals, Bach: Cello Suites

Steve Holtje

By Steve Holtje

on 11.16.12 in Reviews

Bach: Cello Suites

Pablo Casals, cello, and Albert Sammons, violin, w/ BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Adrian Boult
Riveting listening more than seven decades later

This two-disc set contains one of the most beloved and influential recording projects of the 20th century. Listeners who insist on intonational perfection or period performing practice will have to go elsewhere, but there are many compelling reasons to acquire these discs, warts and all. And honestly it’s not all that warty, especially if you’re used to the sonics of vintage recordings (here 1936-39 – from Abbey Road Studios, no less). The charismatic Casals was a pioneering Bach advocate, and his passionate performances of these suites were an important impetus in the “Bach revival.” There was no extant performing tradition for these works when Casals (1876-1973) first started playing them at the age of 13; in effect, after a decade of private study and practice, he created his own tradition, and strong echoes of his interpretive ideas can be heard many decades later in the Bach recordings of Mstislav Rostropovich and Yo-Yo Ma, among many others. Heavily accented rhythms (with much rubato), full but varied tone, taking all repeats, and basing the overall character of each suite on its Prelude are the predominant features of Casals’s approach, and these powerfully personal readings still make for riveting listening more than seven decades after they were documented.