Fine Performances Hindered Slightly by Dated Sound; The Rave
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 05/14/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"These three performances by Robert Casadesus (1899-1972) -- of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K488; Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto in E Flat, Op. 73, 'Emperor'; and Ravel's Concerto for Piano in D Major Left Hand -- are new to compact disc. They were all recorded live in performances for Cologne's West German Radio with the orchestra then called the Westdeutsche Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Köln (now called the Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie Orchester). They are, of course, in mono and have been remastered for this release.
Casadesus was certainly one of the great pianists of the middle part of the last century. He was noted for his classical poise, his straightforward but personal interpretive stance and his unfailingly beautiful tone. He was particularly known for his Mozart interpretations. Indeed, he recorded the A Major Piano Concerto commercially at least three times -- with Barbirolli, Martinon, and Szell -- and I think there may have been others. This performance is notable for its long line, its grace and, especially in the wonderful Adagio, its warmth. The finale is taken quite fast and it scintillates. The orchestra, conducted by Georg-Ludwig Jochum, is not quite in the same league as the New York Philharmonic (Barbirolli) or the Columbia Symphony aka the NYPhil (Szell), but it is adequate. Sound is acceptable for its time (1956).
The Emperor Concerto, under Christoph von Dohnanyi, is exciting, especially for its grandeur and fleetness, but is hampered by somewhat clotted sound and there are distortions at high dynamic levels that the engineers of the present remastering were not able to eliminate. The Adagio, while faster than usual, is especially convincing; how do Casadesus and the young Dohnanyi manage, at that tempo, to convey utter serenity? That there is compromised sound is rather odd in that this is the latest of the three performances (1965) on this disc. It is similar in some respects to the 1955 recording with Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic whose sound is actually more gracious. There is also a fine recording with the Concertgebouw led by Hans Rosbaud but it is only available, I believe, in a 5CD box set.
Casadesus was a friend of Ravel and his interpretation of the Left Hand Concerto benefits from that. Indeed Ravel, after hearing Casadesus play the concerto, is reported to have said to the pianist that he could tell that he was a composer -- he was; Casadesus wrote some marvelous piano music, including two piano concertos, and seven (7) symphonies! -- because he clearly understood the structure of the work. In this live performance from 1957 the most obvious thing about Casadesus' approach to the work is that it sounds both improvisatory and inevitable at the same time. This recording, conducted by Hermann Scherchen, is the most valuable of the three concertos contained herein. It is a true document of Casadesus's complete identification with Ravel's music. It is musically better and in better sound than his first recording with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (1947), and it is the equal of their later (1960) recording. Scherchen is the better conductor in this score and the Cologne Orchestra is in brilliant form.
No question about it, it is the Ravel that makes this disc worth having, although no one could complain about the interpretations of the other two concerti.