This disc is the brainchild of Keith Harvey, a British cellist with a wealth of knowledge of his instrument. While he is too modest to include his own playing among the ‘great moments’ – featuring 17 cellists in recordings from 1916 (Casals) to 1997 (Maisky) – his selection is necessarily a highly personal one.
Harvey carefully terms the excerpts ‘great’, rather than ‘greatest’, and states that some omissions are for contractual reasons. Perhaps wisely, he declines to say which, leaving us to wonder about absentees such du Pré, Tortelier and Rostropovich. His booklet notes point out the elements of each cellist’s technique for which the excerpts were chosen, making the disc a useful study tool.
The earlier tracks, from an age when fast pieces went very fast and slow ones very slow, are eye-openers. Popper’s Spinning Song, played by Arnold Földesy, is almost grotesque, fast and fudged, and Samuel Mayes’s 1941 cello obbligato to Bach’s ‘Es ist vollbracht’ so slow it almost grinds to a halt. Other excerpts like the Shaporin Scherzo, played with superb co-ordination and amazing speed by Alexander Gotgelf, one of four cellists not otherwise found in the current catalogue, take the breath away, and there are magical moments of lightness and delicacy from Casals and Piatigorsky. Janet Banks