The encore is an awkward ritual, but without it concertgoers feel cheated. The audience knows the artist is coming back; the artist knows it, but still we cheer and applaud, willing the performer to reappear. When our exhortations are rewarded, the artist pretends the little nugget they’ve kept up their sleeve is a spontaneous addition. But presenting a satisfying encore is an art in itself, and Spanish cellist Pablo Casals had an arsenal of compact crowd-pleasers for precisely this purpose.
No doubt a disc of beloved encores once popularised by the most revered cellist of the 20th century – some in Casals’ own transcriptions – means big shoes to fill for Alban Gerhardt, whose faultless technique and singing tone make this an admirable tribute.
The program’s balanced selection contrasts favourites with rarities, sparkling virtuosic display with the slow, expressive numbers that defined Casals’ encore style. Some of the most famous inclusions are weighed down by familiarity – Elgar’s Salut d’amore, Saint-Saëns’s The Swan and Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude languish most.
As is often the case in concert, the most successful offerings are the most surprising. Boccherini’s Sonata in A major is the ideal showcase for Gerhardt’s breathtakingly elegant phrasing and crisp, agile ornamentation. The Catalan flavour of the album surely would please Casals: Falla’s lullaby Nana aches with understated beauty, sensitively accompanied by pianist Cecile Licad. Spanish dances by Granados and Popper combine buoyant vitality with rustic double-stopped passages and plenty of grunt in the cello’s lower register. Kreisler, Fauré and Debussy make welcome appearances, always with Gerhardt’s energy perfectly judged by his duo partner.