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Robert Casadesus (piano)
The Complete French Columbia Recordings
rec. 1928-1939
APR 7404 [4 CDs: 228:30]

This is the first CD issue of Robert Casadesus' complete French Columbia Recordings, set down between 1928 and 1939. The pianist has been very well represented in the catalogue the culmination of which has been the Complete Columbia Album Collection, a treasure trove of 65 discs issued by Sony earlier this year. Maybe one day I'll be able to afford it.

The pianist was born in Paris in 1899, becoming the most prominent member of a distinguished family of musicians. He studied piano at the city's Conservatoire under Louis Diémer (1843-1919), and was awarded the Premier Prix in 1913. Later he was introduced to chamber music in the class of Lucien Capet (1873-1928), founder of the famous string quartet that bears his name. Aside from a distinguished concert career, Robert taught for many years, and some of his more high profile students include Claude Helffer and Monique Haas. In 1921 he married Gaby l'Hôte (1901-1999), herself a renowned pianist and pupil of Diémer. Robert Casadesus died in 1972.

Casadesus treats us to a selection of eleven sonatas by Scarlatti. These bite-sized gems offer inexhaustible delights. He’s opted for sonatas with energy and spirit. The readings are stylish, lively, imaginative and emotionally varied, enhanced by a dazzling dexterity and limited use of pedal. I love the brilliance and ebullience of the D major K96, which exudes sunshine and delight. In the B minor, K27, there's melancholy in the opening measures, but as the work unfolds, brighter elements encroach, and there's a brush with agitation and violence in the later bars. The performance captures every aspect of the sonata’s wide emotional range. What refined elegance in the D minor, K.9, it couldn't be bettered.

Two Mozart Piano Concertos are featured. No 24, we are told, was the pianist's favourite, and here he plays the exciting and imaginative cadenza by Camille Saint-Saëns. The Concerto's prominent woodwind writing is beautifully sculpted by Eugene Bigot. Casadesus confers a genteel simplicity to the exquisite slow movement. The Concerto No. 26 ‘Coronation’ with Walther Straram, recorded in March 1931, is released here for the first time. Unfortunately, the first 71 bars of the slow movement are inexplicably missing. Nevertheless, this valuable aural document deserves a place in the set.

Mozart's Rondo in D major, K485, which opens CD 2, sounds matter-of-fact and rushed, with Casadesus failing to savour the moment. Similarly, everything seems to be going well in Schubert's Sonata in A until the finale which is paced at a fair lick, and gives the impression of a manic race to the finishing line. Beethoven's ‘Les Adieux’ I like very much. The performance seems perfectly aligned to the narrative. There's farewell and departure in the first movement, a sense of loss or absence in the second, with the third movement portraying the joyful return. Weber's Konzertstück sparkles with energy and élan and is every bit as fine as the Lili Kraus' recording with Victor Desarzens. There's a confident account of Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13. Etude IX is passionate and bold at the start, evoking the Florestan character, whilst Eusebius is realized in the dreamy second part. Etude XI overflows with ardent fervour.

Chopin's four Ballades date from between 1928 and 1930. The G minor, Op. 23 is the least successful. Lacking poetic insights, it sounds to me as though it’s played on automatic pilot, and there are one or two scrambled passages along the way. I've no problem with the other three though, they contain some fine pianism and instinctive musical shape. Fauré's Impromptu No. 5 is delivered with some sleek, filigree finger work, notable for its evenness. The C minor Piano Quartet (May 1935) with Joseph Calvet, Léon Pascal and Paul Mas has previously been issued by Biddulph (LAB 116]. The Scherzo is a light-hearted affair and is particularly successful, whilst the Adagio reveals a noble intimacy.

I'm pleased to be reacquainted with the 1930 recording of Debussy’s Cello Sonata, in which Casadesus partners the French cellist Maurice Maréchal. This warm, expressive traversal has always struck me as finely balanced and musically convincing. Casadesus brings a wealth of colour to Ravel's Jeux d’eau, with such breathtaking sonorities and delicacy. This is the pianist at his very best. Georges Martin Witkowski is a newcomer to me, and his impressionistic canvas Mon Lac is delightful, though the piano does seem rather recessed in the overall balance. Finally, we experience Casadesus as composer in his Sonata for flute and piano. The flautist is René Le Roy. The work is generously melodic and here receives an agile reading, radiant and warm. I particularly like the finale, which has a puckish charm.

This compelling collection offers a broad, contrasting repertoire of music by a pianist who remained, throughout his career, at the top of his game. The painstaking expert restorations have been undertaken by that sonic wizard, Mark Obert-Thorn, who has opened up the sound to reveal depth and clarity. The annotations, as in every case with APR, run true to form in providing a wealth of background and biography, of special value to the uninitiated. Here Roger Nichols does the honours. The superbly reproduced photos are an added bonus. No aficionado of great pianism would want to be without this set.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf
CD 1 [78:15]
1-11. SCARLATTI Sonatas Kk 9, 13, 14, 23, 27, 96, 125, 198, 377, 430, 533
15-17. MOZART Piano Concerto No 26 in D major ‘Coronation’ K537, ORCHESTRE DES CONCERTS STRARAM/ WALTHER STRARAM (first release of this unpublished 1931 studio recording)

CD 2 [69:30]
1. MOZART Rondo in D major K485
2-4. BEETHOVEN Sonata No 26 in E flat major ‘Les adieux’ Op 81a
5-7. SCHUBERT Sonata in A major Op 120, D664; 8. Deutsche Tänze Op 171, D790 (nos 1, 3 – 8 & 11)
9. WEBER Konzertstück in F minor Op 79 UNNAMED ORCHESTRA/ EUGÈNE BIGOT
10-22. SCHUMANN Études symphoniques Op 13; 23. Vogel als Prophet No 7 from Waldszenen, Op 82
CD 3 [76:00]
1-4 CHOPIN Ballades 1-4; Mazurka in A minor Op17/4
6. CHABRIER Impromptu; 7. Scherzo-valse from Dix Pièces pittoresques
8. FAURÉ Prélude in D minor Op 103/5; 9. Impromptu No 5 Op 102
10. FAURÉ Piano Quartet No 1 in C minor Op 15 JOSEPH CALVET violin, LÉON PASCAL viola & PAUL MAS cello

CD 4 [58:45]
1. SÉVERAC Le retour des muletiers from Cerdaña;
2-4. DEBUSSY Sonata for cello and piano MAURICE MARÉCHAL cello
5. CAPLET Danse des petits nègres from L ’Epiphanie MAURICE MARÉCHAL;
6. RAVEL Jeux d’eau
8. CASADESUS Sonata for flute and piano Op 18 RENÉ LE ROY

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