CASKEN Violin Concerto. Concerto for Orchestra
For those unfamiliar with John Casken’s music, he writes in a manifestly 21st-century style, incorporating elements of expressionism and lyrical atonality as well as free tonality, which are used in varying degrees piece by piece. His music is usually direct in appeal, with melodic writing not unlike Maw’s, and repays repeated and focused listening.
Orion over Farne (1984) is probably the least unfamiliar of the three works here, following its revival at the Proms in 2009. There can be an angular and dissonant side to Casken’s music (never taken to excess); and while Orion has this plentifully, its four movements are tempered by his innate lyricism and often beguiling orchestration. This latter aspect is prominent in the two concertos here, in the case of the Concerto for Orchestra (2007) leading him to reject the more abstract title, ‘symphony’.
The music of the Violin Concerto (1995) is bound up with his second opera, God’s Liar, based on Tolstoy’s novella Father Sergius. While the events of the story are reflected in the concerto’s structure and expressive profile, this is not a symphonic poem (albeit with violin obbligato) in the way that Orion over Farne is. That said, there is no denying the music’s immediacy of appeal and explicit lyricism, which Sophia Jaffé catches in her finely nuanced interpretation. Her feeling for line is strong and her intonation secure and not over-sweet. The Hallé accompany marvellously and Markus Stenz elicits equally fine playing in the other two works (not least some wonderful solo wind-playing in Orion). Excellent sound, as usual, from NMC. Strongly recommended.