While pondering the fluctuating nature of musical trends and the idea of an underlying interpretative truth, our reviewer from September 1951 finds Pablo Casals to be a perfectly natural performer

Casals’ supremacy as a musical interpreter has long been acknowledged, both as regards depth of insight and purity of style. It is worth noting that at Perpigan the term most often on his lips at rehearsal was ‘natural’. To him, of course, much is natural that has to be learnt through careful study by lesser mortals: he feels by instinct the right inflection, neither obtrusive nor insignificant, demanded by every note and phrase. With his sensitivity this plays so important a part in the interpretative pattern that he claims that anything which is repeated, from a short detached semi-quaver to a whole musical section, must always differ slightly from the original statement.

In Casals’ cello playing it is always obvious that every shade and nuance have deep significance for him, even at times when his tone is most ethereal and ‘other-worldly’ in character. In his conducting, he seemed to aim, constantly, at making this inner vision of the music of equal moment to each member of the orchestra. He wished the expression to be the result of each player’s personal need to bring to life the spirit of the composition, recognising that this was as much a part of it as the notes or time signature. To these ends he showed the instrumentalists how to round the phrases with crescendi and decrescendi, more often implied than printed. Frequently, as a first reaction, the response would be exaggerated, and he would beg for something ‘natural, not forced’. Ultimately the details fell into place, logically and inevitably, and at the concerts one almost forgot that the readings were composed of a series of finely moulded phrases, neither too much broken up nor too rigid, played with tone that was vocal but never monotonous, in the uplifting joy of participating in a profound, glowing, human and gracious musical experience.

Naturally this could never have been brought about without serious study or unless all concerned had possessed a sound technique, flexible enough to be shaped to serve the music. This teaches a lesson that can be of benefit to all. Less advanced players should not dismiss it as being beyond them: they should begin to train themselves by experimenting for a little while each day in some beautiful piece well within their present instrumental powers. When practising time is limited only a few lines will suffice. The important point is the attitude of mind. Students should demand the most from their efforts, alike in tone, expression, rhythm and intonation, and refuse to be satisfied until reaching the stage where listening, feeling and doing can be accomplished simultaneously. 

Read our report from this year’s Pablo Casals Festival in Letter from Prades in the October issue. Order a copy here or download the digital edition