Song of the Birds: Spanish & Latin Cello. Pablo Casals: Cant del ocells; Gaspar Cassadó: Requiebros, Suite for Solo ’Cello; Manuel de Falla: Spanish Dance No. 1 from La Vida Breve (arr. Maurice Gendron), Suite Populaire Espagnole (arr. Maurice Maréchal); Alberto Ginastera: Pampeana No. 2; Enrique Granados: Orientale, Spanish Dance No. 2 (arr. Gregor Piatigorsky); Astor Piazzolla: Le Grand Tango; Pablo de Sarasate: Zapateado, Op. 23/2 (arr. Leonard Rose). Nancy Green, ’cello, Tannis Gibson, piano. Cello Classics CC1025, © 2010, 70:06, $20.00, available online from amazon.com.
About one third of these selections (listed in alphabetical, not performance order) in terms of play time on this CD, which takes its title from its concluding track, the Casals piece, are transcriptions by renowned earlier cellists of works written for other instruments, including the voice; the other two thirds were composed for the ’cello. All except the Granados and Sarasate works date from the 20th century; they are from the late 19th. All have piano accompaniment except the second Cassadó work.
This is a nice selection of pieces, nicely assembled, with a carefully thought-out general progression from chestnuts to lesser known works, culturally characteristic melodies and rhythms to more subtle forms, and dramatic displays to quieter pieces, all leading to the climactic conclusion of the Casals work, which has so many historical and political associations, thankfully mentioned in the notes, of which younger generations may not be aware, in addition to its simple beauty. Many of the individual movements are dance-rhythm based, and there are internal similarities that relate them to each other, between the opening Falla piece from La vita Breve, the Sarasate on the 8th track, and portions of the penultimate 15th track, the Ginastera work, for example.
There are some 34 other recordings of the Piazzolla, perhaps the best known work on the program, although among the ‘big name’ cellists only Ma and Rostropovich seem to have recorded it. The transcription of the Falla songs (6 of the 7) works very well, no surprise, really, since the ’cello has often been compared to the human voice. Green makes the more soulful ’cello a very convincing substitute for the fiery violin in the Sarasate. The 16-minute Baroque-style Suite by Cassadó, himself a cellist, is particularly lovely. I don’t recall having heard it before; a check shows some 15 other recordings, but curiously none by the ‘big name’ cellists except Janos Starker. Is it perhaps not "showy" enough? For me, it is the real gem of the program.
Green and Gibson are impressive and persuasive performers and they are intuitively communicative with and sensitive to each other. The balance of the instruments is excellent; never does the piano overpower the ’cello. The sound is also excellent, but the volume level struck me as higher than usual; I had to turn my knob down. The recording venue was the Crowder Recital Hall at the University of Arizona School of Music and Dance, on whose faculty Gibson serves, and its acoustic seems good.
The accompanying booklet’s cover has a colorful reproduction of a painting featuring exotic vegetation and birds. The track listings and timings, which reproduce the outside of the tray card (whose inside advertises other Cello Classics recordings, including Green’s Jaguar Songs that I reviewed earlier), and credits are on its inside. They are followed by four pages of brief but very good notes about the individual composers and works (in performance order) by Nohema Fernandez of the University of California, Irvine. It concludes with bios of the performers, accompanied by color photos, on the two sides of its back cover. This is a fine CD, enthusiastically recommended.