Classical Reissue Reviews

W.H. Squire, cello = Works of ELGAR, SAINT-AENS, HANDEL, WAGNER, MOZART, POPPER, BACH, ETC. – With Sir Hamilton Harty, cond. – Pristine Audio

"Old school" cello performances by a '20s cellist often compared to Casals.

Published on September 21, 2013

W.H. Squire, cello = Works of ELGAR, SAINT-AENS, HANDEL, WAGNER, MOZART, POPPER, BACH, ETC. – With Sir Hamilton Harty, cond. – Pristine Audio

W.H. Squire, cello = ELGAR: Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85; SAINT-SAENS: Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 33; The Swan; GODARD: Berceuse; DUNKLER: Humoresque; HANDEL: Largo from Xerxes; WAGNER: Prize Song from Die Meistersinger; MOZART: Ave verum corpus, K. 618; BACH: Air from Orch. Suite No. 3 in D Major; POPPER: Tarantelle – W.H. Squire, cello/ George Thomas Pattman, organ (Wagner, Mozart)/ Halle Orch./ Sir Hamilton Harty (1926-29) – Pristine Audio PASC 393, 77:09 [avail. in var. formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

Cello virtuoso William Henry Squire (1871-1963) represents `something of the “old school” of performance, his having been trained by Carlo Alfredo Piatti. Producer and editor Mark Obert-Thorn has assembled inscriptions Squire made between 1926-1929, many of which reveal Squire’s romantic tendencies in rubati and portamentos. His leaning into the main melody in the last movement of the Saint-Saens Cello Concerto in A Minor (25 March 1926) for Columbia (in its first electrical concerto recording) provides a good case in point of an authentic, albeit sentimental approach. The esteemed conductor Hamilton Harty remains faithful to Squire’s sometimes exaggerated sense of meter.

The series of eight encores and character pieces, five of which leave us no clue as to the piano accompanist, extend Squire’s ardent but manifestly broad style, though the lyric expressivity of his Gofriller instrument can be most persuasive. The Largo from Xerxes has vocal power, but it may sound self-indulgent to modern tastes. The performance of the Bach Air suggests Squire might have made an excellent soloist for the likes of Willem Mengelberg and his own notion of rhythmic freedom. Squire has often been compared to Pablo Casals for their common Nineteenth-Century style, but Squire’s appears more staid, more prone to underline each rounded phrase with a deliberate vibrato and rhythmic license. The Dunkler and Popper pieces permit some wry wit to enter into Squire’s musical persona. The Dunkler Humoresque calls itself a “drinking song,” and it does canter and swoon in a pub’s sense of good-natured mates who enjoy their black and suds. The Popper Tarantella cavorts rather in the manner of a moto perpetuo, relishing Squire’s hearty bass tones and liquid slides. The two selections with Pattman’s organ (from the 1930s) project a “symphonic” resonance we might associate with matinees at the movies.

As producer Obert-Thorn certifies, the original sound for the Elgar Concerto (30 November 1928) proves quite extraordinary for the English Columbias of the period. Despite Squire’s influx of portamento, the phrasing does not convey the passion we know in this work from Du Pre and Navarra. The reading seems to me rather literalist, although sympathetic. The opening recitative has girth, but Squire wants to emphasize the work’s intimate privacy; so we leave it to Hamilton Harty to bring on the full power of the Adagio’s valediction. The second movement scherzo (Allegro molto) projects the requisite quicksilver wit that Squire commands seamlessly, though once more rife with stretched metrics in bowed sighs. The heart of the Concerto, the expansively passionate Adagio, sings a lament for a lost way of life, likely a dirge for the Lost Generation in the spirit of Wilfred Owen. Here, Squire justifies his repute as an artist can elicit plastic orisons from his instrument. Harty’s opening flourish for the final Allegro reminds us of Elgar’s debts to Dvorak.  But whatever robust energies the movement indulges, the affect of sad reverie prevails. A secondary theme emerges that may well have been lifted from Schumann eventually merges with the third movement, playing into Squire’s capable hands, his natural restraint a perfect foil for Harty’s intense lyricism.

—Gary Lemco




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