Robert Casadesus: The Complete French Columbia Recordings – APR 

by | Nov 7, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Robert Casadesus: The Complete French Columbia Recordings = works by SCARLATTI; MOZART; BEETHOVEN; SCHUBERT; WEBER;  SCHUMANN; CHOPIN;  CHABRIER; FAURÉ; SÉVÉRAC; DEBUSSY; CAPLET;  RAVEL; CASADESUS – APR 7404 (4 CDs) 78:15; 69:30; 76:00; 58:45   [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] *****:

Robert Casadesus, piano
René Le Roy, flute
Maurice Maréchal, cello
Calvet Quartet members
Paris Symphony Orchestra
Eugene Bigot
Georges Martin Witkowski

When I studied Piano Literature at SUNY Binghamton with Jean Casadesus (1927-1972), I had already fallen in thrall to the virtues of his  illustrious father, Robert Casadesus (1899-1972) in music of Debussy, Ravel, D’Indy, Beethoven, Falla, and the immortal Mozart.  The technical  finesse Robert exhibited exemplified his capacities for clarity, precision, and refinement.  Robert Casadesus’ tempos tend to be fast, but the music retains a strong sense of architecture whose interior lines vibrate with supple colors. The APR collection, produced and  engineered by Mark Obert-Thorn, gathers the French Columbia recordings Casadesus made 1928-1939, which testify to his range as both virtuoso and scholarly soloist, and his capacities in chamber music and orchestral collaboration.

Robert Casadesus shares with compatriot Jean Doyen the Paris Conservatory influence – particularly that of Louis Diémer – which led to  direct associations with Gabriel Fauré and Maurice Ravel.  Among the earliest of the recordings, that of Ravel’s Jeux d’eau (20 June 1928), the listener may well savor the brilliant pastiche of sound Casadesus controls, the scintillating chords and flexible, high repeated notes and silky  glissandos. As much as both Debussy and Ravel loathed the “impressionist” designation assigned to their works, the ripe color scheme here, and in the sensuously intricates score of Mon lac (rec. 18 June 1928) by composer-conductor Georges Martin Witkowski (1867-1943), indicate the levels of sonic patina Casadesus could project.  The “liquid” score more than certifies the influence Witkowski exerts on his prime pupil,  Vincent D’Indy. The piece resonates with exotic and erotic recollections of Lake Palandru in the Dauphiné.  No less idiomatically aquatic, Casadesus’ own Flute Sonata (published by Durand, rec. 3 June 1935) reveals a distinct melodic gift that simultaneously allows for excursions into individual bravura. The first disc of the set illuminates the Casadesus penchant for speed, flexibility, and poetic nuance, here in eleven, selected sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (rec. 15 June 1937).  Demonstrations of fleet, articulate pianism abound: the D Major, K. 430 projects a salon poise; the A Major K. 533  a breathless linearity; an uncanny, elastic vigor in the D Major, K. 96; an explosive sense of terraced dynamics in the B minor, K. 377; a romantic breadth in the B minor, K. 27; a meticulous polyphony in the E minor, K. 108.  Casadesus’ preferred Mozart Concerto No. 24 in C minor (rec. 20 and 21 December 1937) with Eugene Bigot has a disproportionate cadenza in that by Camille Saint Saëns, but the essential, patented Casadesus ebb  and flow emerge in abundance.  The apocryphal story has Toscanini’s having heard Casadesus in concert, rushing backstage to exclaim, “Mozart, Mozart, we play Mozart.”  Curiously, Casadesus’ first appearance with the New York Philharmonic and Toscanini featured the Brahms B-flat  Concerto.   We hear in the Mozart concertos fine moments of the pianist’s soft passages and intimate colors – but be advised in this, the first issuance of the Concerto No. 26 with Walther Straram (25-26 March 1931), the second movement suffers a severe loss of the first 71 measures due to an irreplaceable matrix.  The lovely Rondo in D, K. 485 (8 December 1937) has a music box transparency and verve, quite fast.  We regret Casadesus did not record more of the Beethoven sonatas: the Les adieux (4 January 1932) balances poise and restrained passion,  though the brilliant passagework shines in pearly play. The ability to launch forte passages without slamming marks the Casadesus sound as much as it does that of Gieseking. The sweet A Major Sonata, D. 664 of Franz Schubert (12 June 1939) competes in lyrical beauty with the recording of Myra Hess made some ten years prior. Something of the Chopin rubato permeates the middle movement, Andante.  Casadesus, like Claudio Arrau, had a fondness for the Konzertstück of Carl Maria von Weber (rec. 6 June 1935), recording it later with George Szell and performing it in concert with Hans Rosbaud. The sweep and energetic propulsion of the performance with Bigot prove endemic to any of these preserved, alternative incarnations.  Despite the contemporary, 1920s’ adverse reaction to the music of Robert Schumann, Casadesus, like Alfred Cortot, championed Schumann’s music, recording the knotty Symphonic Études and Waldszenen excerpt Vogel als Prophet  (20, 28 June 1928). Later, Casadesus would commit all of Op. 82 to records as well as a new Op. 13, along with alertly driven and poetic  readings of Carnaval and the C Major Fantasie.

The fact that two members of the Capet String Quartet were uncles of Robert Casadesus rather guaranteed his initiation into chamber music, and the two recorded collaborations with cellist Maurice Maréchal (3 June 1930) of Debussy’s D minor Cello Sonata and Caplet’s Danse des petits négres attest not only to musical sympathy but an idiomatic flair for tempo and dynamics that allows a sense of spontaneity to reign in the course of studied readings. The Fauré C minor Piano Quartet (7,8 May 1935) projects a dark luster in all  parts but no less a whimsical irony in the Scherzo movement. The sense of seamless ensemble invests a special luster into this historic performance.  In the selections by Sévérac (21 November 1935) and Chabrier (12 June 1939) we find humor and dynamic inflection, given the pianist’s fondness for speed of execution.

Which leaves the question of the Casadesus Chopin, the Ballades’ having been committed to posterity 1928-1930.  Some auditors find only an ‘academic,’ glib approach in Casadesus, his innate classicism too dry for this music.  Speaking personally, I find the set of Ballades intriguing, but stingy in the poetry he would exert later, in his recording of the B Minor Sonata in CBS release that included sonatas by Mozart and Haydn.  Here, the pianist’s ability to color chords has reached a glowing allure impossible to deny.  But the 1930s’ set makes us attentive to Casadesus’ attention to harmonic detail as a motive for rhythmic adjustments, some of which can become volcanic. As examples of severely controlled pedal and rubato, the Chopin reveals a master technician, and the one (14 April1930) Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17, No. 4, holds us spellbound in a way only to be repeated by Ivan Moravec years later.

A set devoted to a master pianist to be treasured, and so I highly recommend it.

–Gary Lemco

Compositions on “Robert Casadesus: The Complete French Columbia Recordings”:
SCARLATTI: 11  Sonatas;
MOZART: Rondo in D Major, K. 485; Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491; Piano Concerto No. 26 in D Major, K. 537 “Coronation”;
BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat Major, Op. 81  “Les adieux”;
SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 664; 10 Deutsche Taenze, D. 790;
WEBER: Konzertstück in F minor, Op. 79;
SCHUMANN: Etude symphoniques, Op. 13; Vogel als Prophet, Op. 82, No. 7; CHOPIN: 4 Ballades; Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17, No. 4;
CHABRIER: Impromptu; Scherzo-valse;
FAURÉ: Prelude in D minor, Op. 103, No. 5; Impromptu No. 5, Op. 102; Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15;
SÉVÉRAC: Le retour des muletiers;
DEBUSSY: Sonata in D minor for Cello and Piano;
CAPLET: Danse des petits négres;
RAVEL: Jeux d’eau;
CASADESUS:  Sonata for Flute and Piano

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