Casken: Darting the Skiff; Vaganza; Maharal Dreaming

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COMPOSERS: Casken
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: Darting the Skiff; Vaganza; Maharal Dreaming
PERFORMER: Northern Sinfonia/John Casken
CATALOGUE NO: 14242 DDD
What might Tippett’s two great works for string orchestra have been like if they had been composed now? With its warm, saturated string sound, fidgety counterpoint and occasional glimpses of the numinous, Casken’s Darting the Skiff (1992-3), an ambitious, freely evolving fantasy inspired by the movement of boats and glances of light on Lake Como, bears not a passing resemblance to the Concerto for Double String Orchestra and the Corelli Fantasia. But, like the product of any good post-modernist, it offers a more oblique experience, one of indirect statement and ellipsis rather than glowing, ecstatic optimism. It’s none the worse for that, but it does mean that instead of liberating the ‘big tune’ hinted at in the work’s final section, Casken ends his absorbing, enigmatic work on a note of fugitive inquiry.

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Vaganza (1985), an ‘extravaganza’ for a larger, mixed ensemble with a prominent, often zany, part for chamber organ, could hardly be more different. An exuberant, fantastical work, full of exotic colours and multiple stylistic references ranging from medieval dance to jazz, it shows the full gamut of Casken’s imaginative interests: he’s not just the glum northerner that recent works such as his Cello Concerto and 1993 Prom piece, Still Mine, might suggest. Maharal Dreaming, an orchestral spin-off from his prize-winning opera, Golem, makes an attractive filler. Confident playing from the Northern Sinfonia.