Music & Arts CD-1179, 52:46; 59:00 (Distrib. Albany) ****:
From 1935 on, French pianist Robert Casadesus (1899-1972) enjoyed a sterling reputation as a performer of the Mozart piano concertos, having recorded thirteen of them and written several cadenzas for the various concertos at which Mozart extemporized at the keyboard. Casadesus, a pupil of Diemier, inherited an aristocratic style of Mozart performance that stressed poetic, pearly play and smooth, fiery execution of Mozart’s fioritura at relatively brisk tempos. These inscriptions 1958-1968 pair Casadesus with two Romantic conductors (Matacic and Martinon) and two acolytes of a more Classical style (Monteux and his star pupil Zinman) make excellent alternatives to the work Casadesus did with George Szell, having a generally more plastic line and intimate effect.
There is an interior serenity Casadesus projects in this music, much of which he played with Toscanini in New York, that Gieseking and Serkin lack, their having an innate, nervous energy in their Mozart style. One wishing to quibble with Casadesus’ Mozart might claim it lacks a sense of humor, although I think if his G Major Concerto with Szell were to come back to domestic CD, the objector would recant. Casadesus relinquishes the soft, cushioned tone of the C Major Concerto (23 September 1960) for a dry, staccato, and percussive effect for the A Major with Martinon (18 June 1969). The uncredited bassoon work in K. 467 is worth honorable mention. The singing line in K. 488, moreover, is undiminished, and rarely has Mozart’s innately vocal, arioso style found such glistening keyboard realizations. The sheer stateliness and breadth of phrase in Mozart’s F# Minor Adagio is an alchemical miracle of tragedy and repose. Colossal, brisk digital dexterity marks the last movements of K. 467 and K. 488 – Mozart at his virtuoso best. Casadesus deciso upward scales are models of their kind. The left hand work is no less brilliant, and it often makes us wish we had Casadesus’ Beethoven C Minor Concerto. The elan and joie de vivre in Mozart’s scherzandi, the ingenious interplay of piano and winds, receives its full complement of ratio and Eros.
The C Minor Concerto remained a perennial favorite with Casadesus, who first recorded it with Eugene Bigot in 1937, then twice with George Szell. He performed this most unrelenting of Mozart’s tragic works with Mitropoulos in Salzburg. With the ever-reliable Pierre Monteux (24 September 1958) Casadesus appears totally in his element, caressing the phrases and coloring legato passages and running scales with masterly delicacy. The cadenza, by Saint-Saens, comes after a torrid cadence by the orchestra. The outer sections of the cadenza have a martial, vehement character, sweeping arpeggios, and dark chromatics that end in double thirds. Monteux picks up the aggressive tension with smooth velocity.
The chastity of Casadesus’ line in the childlike Larghetto movement is reason enough to purchase this sound document. The woodwind work makes us wish Monteux had inscribed any of Mozart’s divertimenti for posterity. The melancholy theme and variations that comprise the Allegretto elicit from Casadesus some pearly, swift passage work, always measured by his uncanny sense of pace and phraseology, a passionate inevitability. It was with the so-called Coronation Concerto that Casadesus made his New York debut, and collectors still await the emergence of his collaboration in this work with Serge Koussevitsky. Casadesus uses the cadenza for Mozart’s other D Major Concerto, K. 451, which he did not record. This collaboration with David Zinman (13 September 1968) sparkles with luminous sound restoration, giving us scintillating piano art blended with intimate, nuanced orchestral tissue. Beauty of tone in Casadesus’ rendition is the order of the day. The soft serenity ppp in the Larghetto demonstrates music-box delicacy. The pomp and circumstance of the Allegretto proceeds at a quicksilver pace, the bass line particularly active in the orchestra. Recommended.
— Gary Lemco