All the earlier reviews are spot on. Cascarino was new to me too, and I bought the CD based on hearing just a few measures, but they were enough for me to know this was music I'd enjoy. Well, 'enjoy' turns out not to be a strong enough word. 'Relish' is more like it. The reviewer who says it may be a bit too much for one sitting is correct if you're listening to this music on a sunny day with the sound of children playing outside - it's mostly slow, heartfelt music, and rich fare - but at 10.30pm, which is when I first played it, the whole CD is a perfect way to wind down before bed, guaranteeing beautiful dreams.
In its day, the 1940s and '50s, this music would have been considered as modernist as Copland's. He encouraged Cascarino after seeing some of his early pieces, but now, over 50 years after it was written, we may also hear a strongly nostalgic vein running through it. Think Copland without the spiky bits; the epic, archaic and, to our ears today, filmic qualities of Respighi in mythic mode (Cascarino breathes orchestrally as naturally as Respighi); and the understated radiance of Vaughan Williams's ruminations. Also there's a strong leaning towards quartal harmony, as in Hindemith and Bloch, though without Hindemith's tendency to cool leanness (which has a beauty of its own).
Instead Cascarino goes in the opposite direction, creating soaring melodies and fabulously colored yet lucid textures that feel as though they've always existed, just waiting to be plucked from some archetypal pool. It is to be hoped that this recording will assist in a re-assessment of his historical significance, as yet overlooked, as his small list of compositions belong to the idiosyncratically American neo-Romanticism of Barber and Hanson which has experienced a restoration in dignity after being rubbished by the modish serialists of Cascarino's own time. Along with Barber, Hanson, Korngold and a few others, Cascarino refused to give into the expectation that to be taken seriously he must relinquish accessible tonal melody and harmonic and orchestral beauty. For example, he's unafraid to highlight an inner viola or cello cantabile line with the harp, a definite no-no if you were a Boulanger and/or Stravinsky acolyte. In fact, all Cascarino's lines sing smoothly and beautifully. Yes, there are a few moments of more upbeat music, but only a few and they're of a nature that doesn't interrupt the overall feeling of harmonious serenity. This isn't intended to be a downer, but many tracks are also music one could comfortably play when grieving, similar to classics like Barber's Adagio, without becoming maudlin with self-pity.
Ultimately these comparisons are just mental signposts of the kind we may use when comparing, say, early Richard Strauss with Wagner. Both were unique, and so is Cascarino, who sings very much in his own voice. It's a great pity he didn't write more, though that's because he took immense care to give every note meaning, and for that we must be grateful. What we are given on this CD is a long-overdue opened treasure casket, played exquisitely by Falletta and her orchestra, and excellently recorded. One I won't overplay as I don't want its very special qualities to pall with over-familiarity, but one I'll dream to, and one to relish.