J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Pablo Casals
Accompaniment/Orchestra:Paul Baumgartner; Prades Festival Orchestra
Soloists:Pablo Casals
Paul Baumgartner
John Wummer
Bernard Goldberg
Individual Works:Sonata for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord in G, BWV 1027
Sonata for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord in D, BWV 1028
Sonata for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord in G minor, BWV 1029
Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G, BWV 1049
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Sony
Catalog Number:SMK 66 572
Year Released/Recorded:1950
Total Playing Time:64'23
Comments:Joshua Cherniss said:

Pablo Casals is acknowledged as not only a master of the 'cello, but as a musician of great sensitivity and insight, especially in his Bach performances. However, his style of Bach performance is now unfashionable, and his interpretations are now often dismissed as anachronistic and sentimental.

This recording, in spite of its age (which means that Casals' cello tone is imperfectly conveyed, and that the orchestral sound lacks clarity) testifies to the freshness, passion, and profundity of Casals' Bach performances. It may not be for everyone -- for one thing, Casals is, indeed, anachronistic in playing the viola da gamba sonatas on 'cello -- but it offers not only an interesting illustration of how Bach was once played, but an insightful series of Bach performances that, for all of their seriousness, are also fun. The recording was made at the first Prades Festival in 1950; as the liner notes relate, the event marked Casals' return to public performance after his principled refusal to play in protest against the world's lenient behavior towards Francisco Franco's fascist regime. The performances, in honor of the bicentenary of Bach's death, are thus reminders not only of Casals' devotion to Bach, whose music was the love of his life and his daily companion, but to his moral integrity and courage.

The performances themselves are excellent, if one can get past the use of 'cello and piano where gamba and harpsichord should be. It is worth making the effort to do so. Casals' performances are indeed something special, combining passion, nuance, grace, and a vigoousr, sharply rythmic elan. Despite the vintage of the recording, the wonderful counterpoint between the 'cell and piano is conveyed with clarity. This is an intellectually refined performance; but it is also both a rhapsodic and heroic approach to Bach, full of guts and gusto, but not lacking in refinement or detail. I especially recommend the first movement of the third sonata as a typical example of Casals' art, despite technical flaws (this was, after all, a live performance).

The performance of the Brandenburg No. 4, while it lacks the clarity and lightness of historically informed performances, disproves the common misperceptions about Casals': the performance is strongly rythmic and well-crafted, and the speeds are judicious -- indeed, each movement is only a few seconds longer than they are in Christopher Hogwood's revisioninst performance. All in all, this Brandenburg is not up to the standards of Casals' recordings of the gamba sonatas, or those of the cello suites on EMI; but it is zestful and striking.

In short: I highly recommend these recordings to lovers of Bach who wish to experience the timeless genius of Pablo Casals' Bach interpretations.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • Joshua Cherniss
Date First Submitted:07/04/1998