Howard Shelley / Royal Northern Sinfonia

Robert Casadesus: Symphonies No. 1, 5 & 7

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On hearing these premiere recordings of three symphonies by Robert Casadesus, listeners may be struck first by the works' compact proportions and formal clarity. Only afterwards may one question the staying power of the music, particularly in terms of originality, expressive depth, and memorability. Casadesus was a competent composer, who took the symphonic tradition seriously and emulated the masters, from Haydn to Saint-Saëns. But these symphonies, composed between 1934 and 1970, lack bold invention, strong characters, and emotional urgency, and seem more like a craftsman's dedicated efforts rather than works of true inspiration. The bland and inoffensive Symphony No. 1 may be excused as an industrious exercise, and the Symphony No. 5, "Sur le nom de Haydn" will pass as a clever but not especially incisive example of neo-Classicism. But the Symphony No. 7, "Israël" -- intended as a tribute to the victors of the Six-Day War -- is a disappointment, with meandering, wordless parts for four vocal soloists and two choirs, bombastic battle music, and a rather severe atmosphere overall. The Northern Sinfonia, conducted by Howard Shelley, plays engagingly enough in the first two symphonies, but seems only to go through the motions with the singers and choirs in the last work. Chandos provides decent sound.

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