Casken Cello Concerto
By chance, the final section of John Casken's Cello Concerto (1990-91) is timed at 4'33''. Yet nothing could be more remote from the simplistic anarchism of John Cage's 'silent' piece with that title than Casken's response to a genre that has particularly close associations with the world of musical romanticism. In this concerto, those associations are not so much resisted as transformed.
From the outset, when orchestral strings and solo cello converge on a C sharp, the orchestral melody potentially more 'tonal' than the cello theme, the music's balance of older and newer elements is delicately established. Yet the constraints of the score—composed for a small orchestra and with the intention that the soloist may direct the performance—have not led to a focus on delicacy alone. The music is more concentrated than reticent, with a brooding presence embodying Casken's personal blend of 'regional' Northern atmosphere and 'international' technical perspectives. He even risks a more neo-classical aura in the pugnacious fifth section, and this works well as an extension, and lightening, of the work's intensely lyrical expressionism.
Casken generates each section from his setting of a line from a poem of his own which expresses a distinctly wintry mood, and it is one criticism of this performance and recording that it is so strongly dominated by Heinrich Schiff's warm projection of the solo part. Even without a more equal balance between soloist and orchestra, however, the work still makes a strong impact.'