That Casadesus was
also a composer won’t come as a surprise to most people by now.
We’ve had performances of his chamber works, amongst other things,
and now we have premiere recordings of three symphonies, ones
that span his compositional life.
The First was written
between 1934 and 1935. It’s by some way the longest of the three
and from the sound of it owes a substantial part of its inheritance
to the influence of Roussel. It has a sure sense of movement,
a fine array of wind colours – some most delightfully fulsome
in their melodic generosity – and a sure command of orchestral
procedures. The slow movement is probably the most attractive
of the four. Its transparency and gauze-like sense of innocence
and gentleness are idiomatically conveyed by Shelley and the
Northern Sinfonia. Dynamics here register with often thrilling
depth – so quiet and finely spun – even though on a strictly
thematic basis the themes themselves are not especially distinctive.
But Casadesus certainly knew how to distil atmosphere. The scherzo
wears a rather aristocratic Gallic mien, its central tranquillo
section recalling the Lento with great precision. This leads
on to the lissom Allegretto ending, almost deliberately anti-heroic
in its unhurried, treading water sort of way. A curious symphony
really, structurally speaking, and not necessarily successful
– but captivating in parts.
A quarter of a century
later he wrote his Fifth Symphony “sur le nom de Haydn” though
there’s nothing especially Haydnesque about it. The annotator
says that the dedicatory nature of the work shows Casadesus’s
willingness in general to promote composers whose music was
seldom performed in the early part of the twentieth century.
I’m not sure that particularly applied in 1959, if indeed it
did earlier to an extent greater than other major composers.
Perhaps Casadesus was also remembering those piano works dedicated
to Haydn so much earlier in the century – the theme resembles
Ravel’s Minuet sur le nom d'Haydn. Whatever
the motivation may have been the Fifth is rather lacklustre
and lacks those qualities of illuminating idiosyncrasy that
elevated the First Symphony. The wind writing is once again
a strong feature as is the spontaneous and lissom writing in
the rather giocoso finale – it’s actually a Presto spirituoso.
But in terms of influence Casadesus seems to have been listening
to Hindemith and the Frenchman’s ideas do seem rather foursquare.
The Seventh Symphony
was his last completed composition and written at the time of
the Six Day’s War. It was dedicated to George Szell. It includes
solo voices and a chorus for whom he writes melismas, and wordless
lines. The tone is reverential and penitential, moving onwards
from the first movement’s affirmative tread. The central movement
uses two solo voices, beneficent and calming, with a children’s
choir adding innocence and hope in their slowly ascending and
descending lines. The finale brings back the full chorus and
some brass for some stentorian and rather more brittle writing.
But Casadesus still retains those up and down patterns, ones
that give a satisfying sense of cohesiveness to this compact,
odd, sixteen-minute work.
are all excellent though in truth the music is variable. I warmed
to the warmth and piety of the last, late symphony but the First
is the strongest of the triptych and the one you should start
see also Review
by Rob Barnett