Graham Caskie

an ideal insomnia [London premiere]
Sonata No.3
Sonata in B flat, D960

Graham Caskie (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 22 March, 2005
Venue: Purcell Room, London

Fame is no guarantee of quality. In Graham Caskie’s case that statement can be reversed. I mean no disrespect to Caskie when I say that he is not a leading light in the firmament of pianists. That is not, though, a measure of his ability. Caskie, on the evidence of this recital, is not only a fine pianist; he is also a thoughtful, sensitive and perceptive musician. His name is familiar, of course, and he has made records; but I had not heard him before this recital, and I most certainly want to hear him again.

He began with the London premiere of Stephen Goss’s an ideal insomnia written in 2003 for Caskie and introduced here by the composer (there was no programme provided beyond the flyer for the concert). Lasting about 12 minutes and in four movements, it was difficult to discern a distinct personality in this music, either in the punchy and rhythmic gestures (with reminded of Ligeti’s more demonstrative Etudes) or the static and uninteresting second movement. Only the last one, ‘Alter Klang’, had expressional outreach; the composer said this is based on the Adagietto of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony; this wasn’t apparent to the ear (no more than the admitted-to use of other composers’ music was), despite Caskie’s very fine performance.

Then Michael Tippett’s personality burst in – a distinct voice even to anyone not knowing his music. Caskie is a seasoned campaigner of Tippett’s Sonata No.3; he played it for the composer and recorded it for Metier way back in 1993. Caskie gave a stunning account of it here: articulate, eloquent and perfectly balanced. The long middle movement seemed not a chord too long as Caskie explored infinite touch and colour to sustain Tippett’s exploration and permutation. The finale was given with tireless pulsation and accuracy that never compromised Caskie’s musicianship.

His account of Schubert’s ultimate sonata was an individual and engrossing one. The long first movement, taken broadly, was beautifully modulated, Caskie stressing the music’s introspection and introducing lighter thoughts judiciously. As throughout this recital, Caskie’s range of dynamics and touch was especially impressive and thoughtfully integrated. Having undertaken quite a journey in the exposition, the need to repeat it seemed unnecessary – even allowing the good reasons to do so: the lead-back bars (which Caskie played as no mere function) and the only time the doom-laden bass trill is heard fortissimo. Yet, in this performance, one wanted to continue, not go back; though, once through the (again, very slow) second movement, deeply felt and soulful, Caskie’s decision to repeat seemed vindicated.

The scherzo was lightly turned at a tempo that encompassed all the notes and the indivisible link to the trio was a patrician piece of timing; a couple of bass staccatos were given especial attention: in other hands this would have been gratuitous but Caskie seemed to be searching out their significance. The finale, too, enjoyed many musical enquiries. Caskie’s deep commitment and his illuminating musicianship paid rich dividends.

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