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Various Artists
CASALS FESTIVALS AT PRADES: LIVE CONCERT PERFORMANCES
(Music and Arts)
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The concerts that took place in cellist Pablo Casalsís adopted home town in the eastern French Pyrenees were devised as a way for him to break the self-imposed musical silence he had assumed as a protest against the Franco regime in Spain. Itís debatable whether any festival before or since could match the outstanding group of musicians that assembled in Prades each summer to play with and for Casals during the 1950s. Although many of the recordings have appeared elsewhere, this 13-CD set will surely be the most exhaustive account we ever have of the festivalís activities.

The 15 hours of music are overwhelmingly devoted to the canonical works of chamber music. Among the highlights are the three Brahms piano trios, in driven performances from 1955 by Casals, violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and pianist Eugene Istomin. All three of Schumannís trios are here as well; the third, in G minor, gets a sumptuous reading powered by Rudolf Serkinís magisterial pianism. Sándor Végh is the violinist, and his celebrated quartet is also heard in Schumannís A-minor Quartet and Piano Quintet (with Serkin), performances notable for their probing character and broad range of tempos. And thereís plenty of Beethoven, including all five of the cello sonatas, various trios, and two violin sonatas. One of the violin sonatas (Opus 12 No. 1) gets a vital, spirited reading by violinist Arthur Grumiaux and pianist William Kapell from 1953, the year Kapell died. Pianist Mieczyslaw Hoszowski sneaks in five preludes and fugues from Bachís Wohltemperierte Klavier that have a bit more flourish (and a few more missed notes) than his studio recordings.

Any set of this size and range will include a few duds. Neither Casals nor pianist Alfred Cortot was at his best during the performance of Beethovenís Opus 69 Cello Sonata, and there are numerous technical flubs from both. And a reading of Schubertís String Quintet with Casals in the second chair doesnít match his celebrated performance with the Végh Quartet. But such trivial faults seem insignificant beside these souvenirs of some of the great musical gatherings of the century. M&A engineer Maggi Payne has cleaned up the sound, by and large with excellent results. The 13 discs sell for the price of six, and six hours of recordings appear here for the first time ó two more incentives to buy this set.

BY DAVID WEININGER


Issue Date: December 12 - 18, 2003
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