SAINT-SAËNS: Piano Concerto No. 4 in C minor, Op. 55. FRANCK: Symphonic Variations. RAVEL: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand.
Robert Casadesus, pianist; French National Radio Orch/Jascha Horenstein; Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orch/Eduard van Beinum (Ravel).
MUSIC & ARTS CD 1133 (F) (AAD) TT: 54:45

BRAHMS: HMV Solo Piano Recordings (1929-1936)
Wilhelm Backhaus, pianist
MUSIC & ARTS CD 1132 (2 CDs) (AAD) TT: 58:13 & 71:46

Here are two valuable releases for the collector. Robert Casadesus (1899-1972) made many recordings throughout his long and distinguished career and fortunately quite a few of these are currently available either domestically or as imports—including the complete piano works of Debussy and Ravel. However, many of his major recordings have never been issued on CD by the companies that made them. A number of live recordings have appeared over the years, and particularly welcome is this Music & Arts release containing three works that were favorites of the pianist. Casadesus first performed Saint-Saëns' Concerto No. 4 in 1936 with Toscanini conducting. He made two Columbia recordings of the work, both with the New York Philharmonic, the first monophonic with Artur Rodziski conducting, the second in stereo with Leonard Bernstein dating from 1961. His live performance with Pierre Monteux and the Concertgebouw recorded in 1939 is included in the first volume of the Concertgebouw Anthology (see REVIEW), and now we have another live performance, this one from the Montreux Festival of 1961. This CD also contains the Symphonic Variations from the same concert. Of major interest is that both are conducted by Jascha Horenstein, welcome additions to his rather limited discography.

Of major importance is Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand, which Casadesus had recorded in Philadelphia with Eugene Ormandy pre-stereo in 1947, included in the Philips Great Pianists of the Twentieth Century CD devoted to him (456 739). This newly-released dynamic live performance dates from October 1946 with Eduard van Beinum and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, a major addition to his recorded legacy. There's still a long way to go in exploring Casadesus' commercial recorded legacy, including official releases of his mono recordings of a number of Mozart piano concertos with George Szell. Collectors may wish to search cut-out bins for two valuable discontinued CDs. The first is Lys/Dante LYS 543 on which Casadesus performs with the New York Philharmonic, a CBS broadcast from December 19, 1948, (that includes commentary by Deems Taylor!) featuring Liszt's second piano concerto and d'Indy's Symphony on a French Mountain Air. The other is Cascavelle VEL 2008 with Casadesus and the Suisse Romande Orchestra conducted by Ernest Ansermet in concerts from 1957 and 1958 offering Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 26, Liszt's second concerto and de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain.

The Backhaus Brahms set offers his solo recordings from 1929-1936. The venerable pianist was the first to record a piano concerto (in 1909, a truncated version of the Grieg), and although his name is usually associated with Beethoven and Brahms, he had a fiery assured technique obvious from his 1927 recording of all of the Chopin Etudes. His technique is also displayed in the Paganini Variations, one of the pianist's favorite works which he had recorded twice before the 1929 sessions that produced the performance heard in this set. This is a valuable, comprehensive set, with superb transfers by Maggie Payne (who also "reconstructed" the Casadesus recordings mentioned earlie)r. Avid Brahms collectors doubtless will be interested in twin-CD set, others may be turned off by the premium price—two full-priced CDs—particularly when one can get this same recording of the Paganini Variations, Backhaus' 1932 recording of the D-minor concerto and the two Rhapsodies, Op. 79, on a single Naxos CD at budget price (Naxos 8.110699).

R.E.B. (February 2004)