Cascarino was born in Philadelphia
in 1922. Self-taught until the age of seventeen, his early
influences in music came mostly from the operas that he attended
with his father, a tailor-cum-dramatic tenor. Aaron Copland
reviewed some of his early scores and invited him to Tanglewood
for further study. Unabashedly devoted to tonality and to
the beauty that could be created through the medium of the
orchestra; Cascarino’s orchestral works reflect sensitivity
to color and are indebted somewhat to Copland’s Americana
somewhat crippling modesty and lack of self-promotion kept
Cascarino’s music out of the limelight for most of his career.
An avid reader and lover of literature, the composer was particularly
fond of Greek myth. It is from this passion that Pygmalion
and Portrait of Galatea were born. Lush orchestral
textures and large, sweeping bands of sound define both works.
They are rhapsodic in their nature and in spite of some pungent
dissonances; they contain some very beautiful writing, somewhat
reminiscent of Samuel Barber’s shorter orchestral pieces.
by a Carl Sandburg poem, Blades of Grass is elegiac,
with a mournful English Horn solo, lovingly played by Geoffry
Deemer. Composed right after the end of the Second World War,
the work reflects the tragedy of war’s destruction and death.
Next follows Prospice, Cascarino’s first orchestral
work, originally commissioned as a ballet. Most performances
during the composer’s lifetime were in its two-piano version,
and this disc contains the first recording of it in its original
form for orchestra.
must confess that by the time I got to this fourth piece,
I was growing weary of slow. Although there is much beauty
to be enjoyed in these works, Cascarino seemed to overly favor
slow tempi and somewhat lugubrious harmonic rhythm. The faster
sections in Prospice were a welcome relief. Still,
I must point out that in spite of their being well-crafted
and carefully orchestrated, this composer’s works tend to
be a bit lacking in variety of styles and ideas.
Meditation and Elegy is based on Poe’s poem Annabel
Lee and began life as piano music. It is truly beautiful,
and wistfully brief, but again, it’s slow. Rounding out the
program is The Acadian Land this time inspired by the
poetry of Longfellow. It is full of the rich textures and
delicious harmonies of the other works, but the lack of tempo
variety, while it doesn’t kill the music, certainly makes
this disc one that you would want to sample one work at a
time rather than all at one sitting.
Philadelphia Philharmonia is a group assembled for this project,
and is ably conducted by JoAnn Falletta, of right reputation
as one of the major talents of the younger generation of American
conductors. She makes a good showing of some decidedly second-tier
is, in all honesty, worth investigation, and although this
is not music that is bound for a lasting place in the concert
repertoire, the occasional performance makes for a refreshing
change of pace.