‘I don’t try to imitate Pablo Casals,’ writes Alban Gerhardt of this disc of the great Catalan’s encores, ‘but I do follow his approach when playing pieces of this kind, treating them with the same care, intelligence, love and sensitivity as one would a newly discovered piece by Beethoven.’ He and the superb Cecile Licad are wholly successful in this endeavour from the outset. Popper’s gloriously effervescent Chanson villageoise is a revelation: it’s just the sort of recital piece we hear so little in concerts these days, which needs both high seriousness and a certain breezy charm to come off. I was reminded of the elegance of Pierre Fournier, and the cool brilliance of János Starker at his height, except that 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. From Godard’s poignant and beautiful Berceuse de Jocelyn, the veiled passion of Edward MacDowell’s Romanze, a brilliantly impertinent Serenata napoletana by Sgambati to the absorbing depths of Fauré’s Après un rêve, each work is presented with stylish devotion. Gerhardt resurrected some real gems: Falla’s Nana in an arresting, ghostly arrangement by Maurice Maréchal is mesmerising, with Gerhardt achieving a floating, grainy timbre a world away from the ultra-focused purity of his line in Boccherini. Casal’s own arrangement of Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude achieves an extraordinary orchestral intensity. ‘Old-fashioned’, maybe, but a tour de force here. This is cello playing of exquisite sophistication and bold imagination. Casals, I feel sure, would have approved. Helen Wallace