Impressive Anthology Introduces Paul Tortelier's EMI Recordings
Paul Tortelier: The Great EMI Recordings Booklet with complete track list and session details, and a 15-page essay by Tully Potter (EMI)
Coming to grips with the French cellist Paul Tortelier in the 1950s and ’60s was a necessary rite of passage for adventurous young cellists. His recordings made important statements about post-Casals cello styles and signaled the major role the cello would play in the coming growth of the classical music industry. He had a huge technique, which conquered all in its path; as a performer he wore his soul proudly, charismatically, and eloquently on his sleeve.
This 20-CD box set—which includes a booklet with complete track listing and session details, and a 15-page essay by Tully Potter—gathers in one impressive anthology the celebrated EMI recordings of a world-class string player who remains virtually unknown in the United States.
There were many iconic aspects to Tortelier’s life and career: He pioneered the angled endpin that Rostropovich later adopted. He spent a year on a kibbutz in Israel when tensions mounted in the Middle East in the mid-’50s. He was the “other cellist” on the fabled Prades Festival recording of Schubert’s C major Quintet with Stern, Schneider, Katims, and Casals. As a matter of conscience, he refused to play in the United States for 30 years during the Cold War.
Born in 1914 in Paris, Tortelier already was a virtuoso to be reckoned with when World War II swallowed him up. When the war ended, he emerged as one of the leading young lions. The cellist Emanuel Feuermann had died during the war, and Pablo Casals hadn’t yet returned from his self-imposed exile in France. Mstislav Rostropovich and Daniil Shafran were making growling sounds in Russia. Gregor Piatigorsky and Pierre Fournier were still the marquee cellists they had been before the war, and Janos Starker was waiting in the wings.
When the recording industry switched to stereo in the late ’50s, Tortelier was in the right spot at the right time. He embarked with EMI on what would be his definitive statements on the cello repertoire. His interpretive approach resembled British cellist Jacqueline du Pré’s in its range, from wide swaths of emotion and sound to tender intimacy. Both had technique to burn and a casual ease with using it. But both gave their entire heart and spirit to whatever they recorded.
The repertoire on these EMI recordings includes the key cello masterpieces, Bach’s Solo Suites, the big concertos, and a dazzling variety of miniatures and encore pieces. The sound here has been refocused a bit to better suit current tastes. Young cellists should listen and be inspired not only by the playing, but by Tortelier’s commitment to artistic integrity, which was played out, in part, on the world’s political stage.