***** Gerhardt has a honeyed, liquid tone all his own. He has created a well-contrasted programme that clearly took a long time to research and hone. This is cello playing of exquisite sophistication and bold imagination. Casals, I feel sure, would have approved.
– BBC Music Magazine [August 2011]
The young German cellist Alban Gerhardt grew up revering, and imitating, Pablo Casals. This disc is a tribute by Gerhardt to Casal’s artistry, not in the longer works which Casals recorded toward the end of his long career, but in the encores that he set down much earlier. Gerhardt was inspired by the way that CasalsRead more would present these miniature pieces “not as seond-rate, cheap salon music, but with the sincerity and integrity they deserve”. His partner is the Filipino pianist Cecile Licad.
The program for this recording consists mostly of nineteenth century pieces, by a mixture of familiar composers and some not so familiar, such as David Popper, Benjamin Godard, Giovanni Sgambati and Eduard Lassen. A movement from one of the Boccherini sonatas and Casals’ arrangement of the traditional folksong
Song of the birds add variety. These pieces are mostly melodic in nature and are all very approachable; the Popper pieces are the most overtly virtuosic. Gerhardt and Licad’s approach to this repertoire is sensitive and mostly respectful, with the exception of the Popper pieces, which are played quite uninhibitedly. Gerhardt takes the opportunity here to indulge in some expressive slides, but, after the manner of his Catalan idol, these are not overdone.
Space obviously doesn’t permit commentary about every piece, but there were a few outstanding ones. The
Menuet from the Petite Suite had sensitive dynamic shaping. I felt Gerhardt’s upper register sounded a little thin here; Casals’s 1926 recording had more body, although his upper register was more nasal. The Sgambati
Serenade had a very well-managed transition to the upper register. Gerhardt’s beautiful legato playing registered in several pieces, notably the Chopin
Nocturne and Casal’s arrangement of
Song of the birds. The Chopin also showed the ability of the duo to present music with feeling that never becomes sentimental. Licad gets more to do in
Vito, and Gerhardt has the opportunity to show off his harmonics and double trills. The Boccherini was charming and showed Gerhardt’s great variation of tone. The
Allegro Appassionato were expertly played. The recording is very well-balanced, living up to Hyperion’s usual high standard.
For comparison I listened to
volume 1 of the Casals Encores and Transcriptions series on Naxos. This disc contains quite a few of the tracks on the Gerhardt collection. I was able to hear some of the remainder on a disc called Ultimate Cello Classics, CD5, issued on Eloquence; this comprises encores played by Heinrich Schiff and Samuel Sanders. Some of these pieces are also on the Casals and Gerhardt discs, and thus offered the opportunity for a three-way comparison. These players all treat this repertoire with respect, and are effective in “selling” a piece that only has 3 or 4 minutes to get its points across.
This music is ideal for relaxing evening or late night listening. For the listener who does not have any of these recordings, the decisions are slightly complicated. Gerhardt definitely has the technical chops for these pieces, and plays them with just the right amount of feeling. However, there is no denying Casals’ marvellous way with this repertoire. If you only want one disc, at least to start with, and modern sound engineering is a must, Gerhardt can confidently be recommended. If you are curious about the master who so inspired him, one or more of the Casals series would be a worthwhile and inexpensive supplement.
YOU MUST BE A SUBSCRIBER TO LISTEN TO ARKIVMUSIC STREAMING.
TRY IT NOW FOR FREE!
Sign up now for two weeks of free access to the world's best classical music collection. Keep listening for only $19.95/month - thousands of classical albums for the price of one! Learn more about ArkivMusic Streaming