On the ﬁrst Saturday of the month Jack Moore and I host Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection on WRTI 90.1 FM in Philadelphia and on the all-classical webstream at wrti.org. We also broadcast encore presentations of the entire Discoveries series (now eight years and counting!) every Wednesday at 7:00 pm on WRTI HD-2. For a look at all the shows, click here.
Saturday, September 5th, 2009, 5:00-6:00 p.m.
Romeo Cascarino (1922-2002). Blades of Grass (1945). Geoffrey Deemer, English horn, Philadelphia Philharmonia, JoAnn Falletta. Naxos 8.559266
Maurice Wright (b.1949). Concerto in Two Movements, for Flute and Orchestra (2008). Prema Kesselman, flute, The Metropolitan Sinfonia, Tommy Harrington
Romeo Cascarino. Prospice (1948). Philadelphia Philharmonia, JoAnn Falletta. Naxos 8.559266
On this Discoveries, we listen to three works by two composers with Philadelphia connections. Romeo Cascarino was born in South Philadelphia and taught himself orchestral music through frequent visits to the Fleisher Collection and the Music Department in the Free Library of Philadelphia. He constantly studied orchestral scores here and loved reading literature, too, especially poetry—which would be a catalyst for many of his later works. Not the bookish recluse, though, he once said, “With a name like Romeo, I had better be good with my ﬁsts.”
Prospice, based on the Robert Browning poem, is about ﬁghting of a different kind. It’s the ﬁght against the fear of death and the ﬁght of the soul to express itself. Cascarino had gone to Tanglewood at Copland’s invitation, and this is the young composer’s ﬁrst full orchestral work. The inﬂuence of Copland is apparent in it, but his own voice comes through in this powerfully wrought tone poem (originally a ballet commission). It is a manifesto of courage and a call to arms for the creative artist. Blades of Grass, an even earlier piece for English horn, strings, and harp, is inspired by the Carl Sandburg poem “Grass,” a memorial to those who have fallen in battle. This was composed just at the end of World War II, and it resonates not only with sadness, but with renewal. Cascarino went on to become a sought-after orchestrator: listen, in this utterly beautiful work, to the gift he had from the start.
Maurice Wright, originally from Virginia, studied at Duke and Columbia and has been Professor of Composition at Temple University for more than 20 years. He has many commissions, recordings, and national awards to his name. His compositional activity is wide-ranging, from opera and art song to electronic, electro-acoustic, and ﬁlm music, and he co-founded the Interactive Arts and Technology Laboratory at Temple.
His music is always smart and luscious. Like Cascarino, Wright has an innate sense for how to get the most out of live instruments. This means not only that his music always sounds, but that it always sounds big. This brand-new concerto—for a small orchestra of strings, a few winds, harp, and ﬂute soloist—plays big and plays romantic. It’s engaging and a gorgeous addition to the literature, wonderfully performed by Prema Kesselman in this live concert recording.
All three works come out of Philadelphia, by one who was born and lived here, and by one who makes this his home.