On visits to Casals, musicians made grand music

June 12, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Mozart, Concerto No. 27 (K. 595) performed by pianist Mieczyslaw Horszowki and the Perpignan Festival Orchestra, Pablo Casals conducting; Mozart, Concerto No. 14 (K.449) performed by Eugene Istomin and the Perpignan Festival Orchestra, Casals conducting; Mozart, "Ch'io mi scordi di te?," performed by soprano Jennie Tourel, pianist Horszowski and the Perpignan Festival Chamber Orchestra, Casals conducting (Sony Classical SMK 58984); Brahms, Sextet in B-flat (opus 18), performed by violinists Isaac Stern and Alexander Schneider, violists Milton Katims and Milton Thomas, and cellists Pablo Casals and Madeline Foley; Brahms, Trio in B Major (opus 8), performed by pianist Myra Hess, violinist Isaac Stern and cellist Pablo Casals (Sony Classical SMK 558994); Schubert, Quintet in jTC C (D. 956), performed by violinists Isaac Stern and Alexander Schneider, violist Milton Katims and cellists Pablo Casals and Paul Tortelier; Schubert, Symphony No. 5 (D. 485), performed by the Prades Festival Orchestra, Casals conducting (Sony Classical SMK 58 992)

These are three of the more than 15 CDs of performances given at various festivals that were organized around the participation of the legendary cellist-conductor Pablo Casals.

After World War II, the forces of fascism had been defeated almost everywhere in Europe except Spain (and its Iberian neighbor, Portugal). As a protest, Casals gave up public performing, living in quiet obscurity in the south of France near the Spanish border. But if the great Spaniard wouldn't come to the world to play music, the musical world -- organized by such guiding spirits as the pianists Istomin, Horszowski and Rudolf Serkin and the violinists Stern and Schneider -- came to him.

Not all of these are great performances -- I can live without Jennie Tourel, a nonpareil in French or Russian music, singing indifferent and out-of-tune Mozart -- but many of them are astonishing. Both the Brahms Sextet and the Schubert Quintet receive performances that, in their virility, intensity, passion (in the Brahms) and spirituality (in the Schubert) make those by other musicians sound like pygmies.

The two great Mozart piano concertos are performed to perfection by Horszowski and Istomin; and the Brahms B Major receives a performance, powerfully and sensitively led by Hess, that is almost as accurate as it is extraordinary.

There are still unexplored treasures from the Casals festivals in the Sony vaults. I remember with particular fondness a superheated performance of the Brahms Quintet for strings in G, a wonderful performance of the Schumann Piano Quintet in which the great Hess did some of her most remarkable playing, and a commandingly regal performance of Mozart's biggest piano concerto, No. 22 in E-flat (K.482), performed by Serkin.

HEAR THE MUSIC

To hear an excerpt of the music of cellist-conductor Pablo Casals, call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call (410) 268-7736; in Harford County, (410) 836-5028; in Carroll County, (410) 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6190 after you hear the greeting.

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