"Handel" Concerto by Henri Casadesus

Henri Gustave Casadesus, 1879 to 1947 , was a gifted violist. He was also very interested in rare instruments and found a society in Paris that gave performances on such instrtuments up until the beginning of the second world war. Some of Casadesus' instruments are still in the collection of the Boston Symphony. Becoming something of a "musical diplomat", Casadesus traveled the United States performing in various quartets and orchestras, often with his brothers. One of the things the Casadesus brothers became famous for was debuting 'rediscovered' works of 18th Century composers such as Mozart, C.P.E. Bach, and Handel. At the time, these works were taken at face value, but stylistic analyzation since has revealed that these works were not what they seemed. In fact, during the last few years, evidence has come to light that the Casadesus brothers wrote these pieces themselves! It is worth mentioning that the Casadesus family has never denied these allegations.

At any rate, the concerto is a solid, delightful work, displaying the the skills of the preformer well. While it seems unlikely that a concerto would have been written by Handel for such an obscure instrument (in his time!!) as the viola, the work never-th-eless is deeply rooted in the late Baroque/Early Classical style. That is: rigid structure, piano to forte dynamics, and the three movement form. The work was well-recived when it was debuted, though it has dropped from the spotlight in recent times. Its fortunes rallied, however, when the Suzuki method books selected this concerto to complete their Viola Method Book 8 and have since made a recording to bundle with the book.

The concerto, in B minor, starts with a technically and physically challenging Allegro moderato. Technically chanllenging due to it disjoint rhythms, fast scale passages, and full use of the instrument - from the low C to the harmonics high on the A string. It is physically challenging due its large number of notes and almost six full minutes of playing for the soloist. The arrangement of this movement is almost in rondo form, with the distinctive viola theme returning again and again, and occasionally being echoed by the orchestra. This concerto is definately focused on the soloist with the orchestra acting fully as backup. There is very little 'question and answer' between the participants, though when the orchestra does get a word in, the viola alway comes up with a witty reply. It is the constant forward motion, both in the solo and base lines, that keeps the movement's repetative nature from being a hinderance. This motion only stops, in true Baroque style with the last chord. To fully appreciate the how technically sound a player must be, one hear see this concerto at a live performance. Any cynic of the viola as a solo instrument, or the capabilities of violists as soloists are soon silence by Casadesus' tour-de-force.

A quiet, graceful gem, the Andante ma non troppo provides a restful interlude. As if the soloist (or maybe the composer) was worn out by the titanic first movement, this second's flowing melodies and graceful harmonies are the perfect remedy. The solo line drifts over the orchestra line and as one cresendos the other decresendos. It seems that the two parts are in perfect balance. The dynamic range from between piano and mezzoforte - never louder. Finally, after the viola's last trill, the work drifts off into peaceful nothingness.

With a lively spiccoto, the Allegro molto energico trots onto stage. This light and lively movement closes the concerto out in a happy fashion. Skipping thought the range of the viola, and occasionally stubbling into delightful legatto passages, the viola seems to have a great deal of fun in this movement. Again, as appears to Casadesus' preferance, the orchestra plays a fully second-hand role. He does not forget about it entirely, but his focus is squarely on the viola, unlike some other concertos. Not wanting to appear to frivilous, however, Casadesus finishes off the work with a full orchestra and soloist chord in the tonic.

(A wee picture of a CD) Click Here for the Sound Byte The exerpt is from the beginning of the third movement. It provides a good example of the general 'Casadesus' style and shows the skill of the soloist. If one compares this work, to other Baroque pieces, specifically Handel's Water Music, on can see how Casadesus uses the orchestra to highlight the same way Handel used brass and winds. This may be one of the reasons that the true nature of this concerto remain hidden for so long.

The soloist is the great William Primrose himself with a chamber orchestra conducted by Walter Goehr. This disc is a Pearl re-issue of a possible RCA Victor or Deutsche Grammaphone recording. At any rate, this disc is fantastic. Complete with the original record pops and scratches, all of Primrose's sublties are still there. Also contained on this disc is the Sinfonia Concertate in E by W.A. Mozart, Primrose is joined by violinist Albert Spalding, conductor Fritz Stiedry, and the the New Friends of Music Orchestra; also, pianist Gerald Moore joins Primrose in Brahms indescribable Sonat in Eb Major, Op. 120, No. 2, for Viola and Piano. No serious classical music library can be complete without this wonderful recording. Incidentally, there appears to be only one other recording of this concerto currently available.

Return to Reperatoire and Sound Clips page. 1