P1357. ROBERT CASADESUS, w.Szell Cond. Kölner Rundfunk S.O.: Piano Concerto #27 in B-flat, K.595 (Mozart), Live Performance, 8 Sept., 1958; w.Szell Cond. NYPO: Piano Concerto #4 in G (Beethoven), Live Performance, 24 Nov., 1963, Philharmonic Hall [This had been programmed for the afternoon of the 22nd. The assassination of JFK at the same time caused the concert to be abbreviated and then cancelled]. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-1034. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Robert Casadesus was the quintessential French musician, a passionate perfectionist who carried the Gallic virtues of precision, clarity, and elegance into the mid-twentieth century as an embodiment of the living spirit of classicism - precision animated by passion, clarity attained through sensuous scintillance, and elegance as the expression of the most lucidly aware animation. Born in Paris to a distinguished family of musicians - his father and three uncles enjoyed careers as performers and composers - Robert took first prize for piano at the Paris Conservatoire at age 14. Studies with Louis Diémer - early enthusiast of the French clavicenistes, premiere soloist and dedicatée of Franck's ‘Variations symphoniques for piano and orchestra’ - graced Casadesus with the mantle of the inheritor. In 1921 he married fellow Diémer pupil Gabrielle (Gaby) L'Hôte. The following year he earned Ravel's friendship with his performance of ‘Gaspard de la nuit’, which led to European tours with the composer and legendary soprano Madeleine Grey. ‘You are a composer’, Ravel wrote, ‘because you have the courage to play 'Gibet' as I imagined it, that is, as a slow piece...And virtuoso pianists do not want to play it like that. They double the tempo and make it much faster. That is why I think you are a composer’. Indeed, Casadesus' catalogue eventually embraced some 68 works, including seven symphonies, concerti for two and three pianos and orchestra, 27 chamber works, and 20 works for piano. It is music for connoisseurs, music of formal concision not devoid of passionate expression, but highly wrought, suggestive, and understated in, typically, lyrically attenuated slow movements, tender and strange, and conclusions of fastidious tumult. It is the antithesis of Mahler's confessional expansiveness, while Stravinsky's neo-Classical manner seems gimmicky and carnivalesque by comparison. Casadesus was a distinguished teacher, beginning his career as Professor of Piano at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau in 1921, and replacing Isidor Philipp as its head in 1935. But it is primarily as a touring pianist and recording artist that Casadesus is remembered, appearing throughout Europe and the United States over 2,000 times in a career spanning half a century, often in duo-piano recitals with his wife. His authoritative, exhilarating recordings of the Mozart piano concerti with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, the Beethoven violin sonatas and the Franck Sonata with Zino Francescatti, Franck's ‘Variations symphoniques’ and d'Indy's ‘Symphonie cévenole’ (Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français) with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the piano works of Ravel - to name but the most prominent - are among the very greatest.”
- Adrian Corleonis, allmusic.com
“Part of the wave of great Hungarian conductors who took over American musical life just before and after World War II - the others included Fritz Reiner, Antal Doráti, and Eugene Ormandy - George Szell quickly transformed a middling Midwestern orchestra into one of the nation's ‘Big Five’. His cultivation of the Cleveland Orchestra set an example of discipline and hard work that gradually helped raise the standards of orchestras across America.
Szell was a wunderkind, playing a Mozart piano concerto with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra when he was ten, and composing a number of solid chamber and orchestral works in a lush, late Romantic style as a child and teenager. He was 17 when he conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in a program that included one of his own compositions.
Despite these early successes, Szell rose through the conducting ranks in the traditional way of the period, with a series of opera positions: Royal Opera of Berlin (1915-1917), Strasbourg (1917-1918), Prague (1919-1921), Darmstadt (1921-1922), and Düsseldorf (1922-1924). Szell's first prestigious post came to him in 1924, when he was named first conductor of the Berlin State Opera; he simultaneously served as a professor at Berlin's Hochschule für Musik. In 1929, he moved on to become general music director of the German Opera and Philharmonic in Prague, where he remained until 1937.
Szell began focusing more on orchestral repertory in the 1930s; he made his U.S. début as guest conductor of the St. Louis Symphony in 1930, and in 1937 he was appointed conductor of the Scottish Orchestra in Glasgow, while maintaining a steady relationship with the Residentie Orkest in The Hague. Szell was in America in 1939 when war broke out in Europe; he remained in the U.S. through the war, first depending on guest engagements and then, in 1942, becoming a regular conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, where he was especially praised for his Wagner performances. In 1946 Szell took American citizenship and became music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, a post he held for 24 years. He was also the New York Philharmonic's music advisor and senior guest conductor during the last two years of his life.
Although Szell made recordings in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s for Decca, and in Cleveland at the end of his life for EMI, the bulk of his substantial discography was the result of his long collaboration with Columbia Records in Cleveland. There, Szell had inherited an able but ordinary orchestra and, through sheer determination, molded it into one of America's finest. A Szell performance was remarkable for its textural clarity, chamber-like balances, and precision of attack and release. He drilled his orchestra mercilessly, even in works it had performed with him not long before. Szell was particularly admired for his performances of Austro-Germanic classics from Haydn to Richard Strauss, his sharp renderings of works by a select group of twentieth century composers including Bartók, Prokofiev, Janácek, and Walton, and his idiomatic way with Dvorák. Indeed, some collectors maintain that Szell's monaural, early 1950s recording of Dvorák's Eighth Symphony with the Concertgebouw Orchestra has never been equaled. His treatment of French composers, on the other hand, was criticized for its lack of atmosphere, and detractors maintained that he achieved precision at the expense of emotional expression. To those who demanded a warmer approach to his beloved Mozart, however, Szell is said to have retorted: ‘One does not pour chocolate sauce over asparagus’."
- James Reel, allmusic.com