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Robert Casadesus
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K488 (1786) [23:37]¹
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 5, ‘Emperor’ in E flat major, Op. 73 (1810) [36:17]²

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Piano Concerto in D for the Left Hand (1929-30) [18:02]³
Robert Casadesus (piano)
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra [now, the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne]/Georg-Ludwig Jochum¹;/Christoph von Dohnányi²;/Hermann Scherchen³
rec. Funkhaus Cologne, March 1956 (Mozart); January 1965 (Beethoven) and March 1957 (Ravel)
MEDICI ARTS MM0322 [78:16] 
Experience Classicsonline

Seldom does one encounter a Casadesus disc that disappoints. Here we have Cologne broadcast performances from Medici’s increasingly active stable and none disappoints. The repertoire may not perhaps stir the breast – these were all very familiar works but the uniqueness of the inscriptions should tempt collectors of artist-led discs such as this. The presence of Scherchen on the rostrum will – or should –also add a pressing interest, though colleagues such as von Dohnányi and Georg-Ludwig Jochum are hardly going to turn away prospective purchasers. 

The broadcasts date from a period of just over a decade.  Mozart was a Casadesus speciality of course. A Barbirolli-led performance exists live from New York in 1938 on APR 5601. Then there’s the famed Columbia Symphony/George Szell Sony Classical from 1959. True the Barbirolli suffers from indifferent sound and the Szell will be the main point of comparison, but all three performances enshrine very similar virtues of clarity and proportion, of delicate precise passagework and indeed a very similar approach to rubati and to proportion in general. Typically elegant the passagework in this Cologne performance approaches the pellucid, and ensemble is maintained throughout. There’s an especially impressive first movement cadenza. The slow movement bears tribute to the warm, uncloying clarity of Casadesus’s playing whilst the finale  enshrines Gallic insouciance in profuse quantity – along with bushels of timbral sophistication and nuance.  Incidentally a performance of K467 given on 15 May 1956 with these same forces exists, and can be found on Melodram GM40048. 

The Emperor, with von Dohnányi, reprises the more salient qualities of line and narrative control, and contour. His tone is necessarily fuller and he displays a commanding, unhackneyed sense of drama.  Noble and self effacing as he is in the slow movement it’s never too reserved and the forward moving sense of tempo he proposes here acknowledges the un poco messo instruction. He establishes the dramatic terpsichorean basis of the finale early, but he is quite capable of the most ravishing liquid phrasing and right hand delicacy, as well as ensuring that the balance between hands is properly weighted. This should justly be added to the Mitropoulos and Previtali led recordings for points of comparison. 

Finally we have Ravel’s Piano Concerto in D major for the Left Hand. The soloist was much associated with it and his 1947 recording with Ormandy has long stood the test of time. This live recording was made a decade after the pianist’s commercial recording.  It’s a pretty good recording and once past the rather untidy opening things begin to burgeon nicely. Scherchen was no stranger to the work; he had conducted it for the dedicatee, the argumentative Paul Wittgenstein, in April 1934, and again in 1958 in Buenos Aires and in 1959 with Monique Haas and the Berlin Philharmonic. Now trenchant, now terse, colourful and sinewy this is a powerful reading with the two men seemingly in fine accord. The “brassy” first trumpet makes his presence felt and the jazz-influenced pages are accomplished with rhythmic assurance. Casadesus is a nuanced and characterful soloist and more extrovert than his compatriot Jacques Février whose 1942 recording with Charles Münch, though tonally constricted, offers similar musical rewards. 

The Ravel has been out before, on Tahra TAH651, an all-Scherchen disc. If you don’t have it you can find it now on this finely transferred and annotated Medici tribute to a treasurable artist. 

Jonathan Woolf 



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