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Romeo CASCARINO (1922-2002)
Pygmalion (1956) [18:14]
Portrait of Galatea (1952) [11:12]
Blades of Grass (1945) [7:26]
Prospice (1948) [19:43]
Meditation and Elegy (2000) [5:35]
The Acadian Land (1960) [13:52]
Philadelphia Philharmonia/JoAnn Falletta
rec. First Presbyterian Church, Germantown, PA, 7-10 November 2005.
NAXOS 8.559266 [76:02]

 

Romeo 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 style.

A 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.

Inspired 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.

I 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.

The 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.

The 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 music.

This 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.

Kevin Sutton

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