Robert Casadesus Symphonies

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.1 in D, Op.19 À Gaby Casadesus
Symphony No.5, Op.60 ‘sur le nom de Haydn’
Symphony No.7, Op.68 (Israël) À la mémoire de Georges Szell

Natasha Jouhl (soprano)
Alexandra Gibson (mezzo-soprano)
Mark Wilde (tenor)
Michael Druiett (bass)

Gateshead Children’s Choir
Northern Sinfonia Chorus

Northern Sinfonia
Howard Shelley

Recorded 29 & 30 October 2003 in Jubilee Hall, Gosforth, Newcastle

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: December 2004
Duration: 64 minutes

Gallic charm and verve informs the first movement of Robert Casadesus’s Symphony No.1, which was written between 1934 and 1935, and first performed that year under Charles Munch. Casadesus (1899-1972) was, of course, a very distinguished pianist, and probably only remembered now for being so. He was also a composer, more than an occasional one, having begun to write in his teens.

Casadesus, Paris his place of birth and death, exhibits an intrinsically French style in his First Symphony; one that for convenience can be termed neo-classical, music written with melody and rhythm as its basis, and with a deft precision worthy of Ravel (of whose piano music Casadesus made an exceptional recording of). Always inventive, Casadesus’s debut symphony is a very engaging and confident piece of work; four movements playing for just under half-an-hour and including a very touching and restrained slow movement and a bustling scherzo that Roussel would have put his name to. A real find, this work, and I can’t think that any listener loving the music of Ravel, Poulenc, Roussel and Stravinsky won’t be overjoyed with this very affecting score, dedicated to Casadesus’s pianist-wife Gaby, and closing with a wafting, rather pastoral movement. Its first recording is a wholly excellent one.

Not surprisingly, the other two symphonies here are also premiere recordings. No.5 was written for the 150th-anniversary of Haydn’s death in 1959. Its four compact movements are deliberately in the Haydn manner and scored for a classical orchestra. Once more Casadesus weaves a tapestry of melody and harmony with a beguiling mix of directness and elusiveness, maybe a little unvaried but always with heart and sensitivity; the minuet and trio is a particular success.

Casadesus completed his final, choral symphony in 1970, the year that George(s) Szell died. (Casadesus and Szell had worked together on many occasions and recorded Mozart concertos.) Primarily, the symphony is a “tribute to the people of Israel” (booklet note) and begins with impassioned cries before becoming more meditative; the slow movement is followed by a forceful, imploring one. Like parts of the Fifth Symphony, there is sometimes sameness to the material that means even a relatively short work can seem that bit longer.

What is not in doubt is the commitment of the performers under fellow-pianist’s Howard Shelley’s strong leadership; nor the vivid and spacious sound. Both the later symphonies here can get stuck in a rut, although both contain ideas that are striking, but Symphony No.1 is a real find, and for this work alone the CD is recommended. Maybe Chandos will record Casadesus’s other four symphonies?

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