Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876–1948), once a famous opera composer,
was largely forgotten after World War I. It turns out, he wrote some
exquisite orchestralworks aswell,Triptychon,Divertimento, andVenezianische
Suite, which the CPO label brings us with the Munich Radio
Symphony Orchestra, under conductor Ulf Schirmer (CPO 777 567-
2). As one might expect from his [HA9] hyphenated name, Wolf-
Ferrari’s music shows both German and Italian influences. However,
these very attractive works also display some solemnity, and an almost
Elgarian melancholy and stately nobility. They are very well crafted
and immediately appealing. This is one CD to which I have repeatedly returned for its bittersweet pleasures.
I have also had a Naxos CD of Wolf-Ferrari’s music close to me
because it offers some of the most delightfully melodic, engagingly
mellow works for winds and small orchestra that I have heard. Wolf-
Ferrari called them concertinos, and composed one for oboe, one for
cor anglais, and another for bassoon. The soloists and the Orchestra
Sinfonica di Roma, under conductor Francesco La Vecchia, impart just
the right golden glow to this very satisfying music. The last of these
works, the Concertino for Cor anglais, was written in 1947, just as
the avant-garde was taking over the European musical world. Music as
lovely as this was sent into internal exile, not to be heard again for many
decades. Don’t let these 20th-century beauties pass you by on Naxos
(8.572921). These CDs are an antidote to anyone who thinks the 20th
century did not produce music of immense warmth and charm, though
admittedly they sound like idylls from another age.
Ever so slowly, we have been getting a more complete picture of Italian
orchestral music as it emerged from under the complete domination
of opera in the last half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries.
This began with the Naxos andMarco Polo traversal ofGian Francesco
Malipiero’s 2173 11 magical symphonies.
Malipiero (1882–1973) also devoted himself to resurrecting pre-
19th-century Italian music, which he would occasionally repackage
into suites such as Gabrielana, obviously based on the music ofGabrieli;
and Madrigali, orchestral arrangements of vocal works by Monteverdi.
Malipiero’s contemporary, Alfredo Casella (1883–1947), did the same
thing with his Scarlattiana—a delightful, vivacious setting of themes
from Scarlatti’s sonatas. Recordings of this charming work are out
from both the Chandos (10605) and Naxos (8.572416) labels. But the
big news is the appearance, almost all at once, ofCasella’s Three Sym2174
phonies for the first time, including the Second on this CD.
These works allow us to witness the composer’s evolution from
the bombast of late-romanticism to a lean, but no less melodious,
neo-classicism. The first two symphonies are late-romanticism at its
overblown, cataclysmic best. Casella studied in France, but I hear the
steppes ofRussia here, in all their gloom and doom, via Rimsky Korsakov
and even Tchaikovsky, especially in the second movement of the
First Symphony. Casella was gifted with great themes, and he knew
how to milk them for all they are worth. He liked the theme to the
Adagio of the First Symphony so much that he used it again in the Adagio
of the Second. It is so gorgeous that you will not mind. Francesco
La Vecchia and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma give an excellent world-première performance recording of Symphony no. 1 on Naxos
The Second Symphony is even better. Simply add Mahler to the
Tchaikovsky equation, with a briefvisit fromWagner’s Valkyries, who
go riding in the middle of the first movement. Gramophone magazine’s
reviewer went into high dudgeon over this work, declaring that he
was not for a moment persuaded by ‘‘its hyped-up bombast and softcentered
pseudo-eloquence’’. What’s more, it prefigures ‘‘the worst
kind of movie music bathos, though even Cecil B. de Mille might
have balked at having his more sentimental images so relentlessly underlined’’.
Yes, it is that good. As we all deserve a good wallow now
and then, I recommend the Second for the purpose. As musical melo2176
drama, it is so over the top that it almost transcends itself.
There are currently two recordings ofit. I prefer the Chandos version
with the BBC Philharmonic, under Gianandrea Noseda, to the Naxos
release, with same forces above, because it has even more swagger, grip,
and panache, plus superb sonics, which the music particularly benefits
from. Naxos’ Roman forces take more than five minutes longer with
the Second, but add a great companion piece, the haunting A Notte
Alta for piano and orchestra, op. 30 bis, on Naxos (8.57214), which
displays some of the impressionist influences Casella fell under in his Paris years.
The latest entry is CPO’s release of the Sinfonia per orchestra, op.
63 (Symphony no. 3), and Italia, op. 11, a colorful, engaging evocation
of Sicily and Naples, with some rousing reprises of Funiculi-
[HA10] Fanicula[HA10] (cribbed from Luigi Denza). The Sinfonia comes from
another sound world—a neoclassical one, with shades ofShostakovich
and Stravinsky. Gone are all the excesses that the Gramophone reviewer
deplored. However, the melodies remain. Commissioned by
the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, it could otherwise pass as a product
ofmainstream American symphonism of the mid-20th century. It
was a huge hit at its première; the only mystery is why it has taken
this long to revive. The WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, under
conductor Alun Francis, puts its heart into both works, which CPO
captures in excellent sound (CPO 777 265). If you can buy only one
Casella CD, this may be the one to have, but then you would miss the
fun of his stylistic journey through the romantic thickets to an open clearing.
Another Naxos release offers Casella’s rhythmically driven, highly
energetic, but melodically lyrical Cello Concerto, accompanied by the
sheerly delightful Scarlattiana for piano and orchestra. While this budget
CD (8.572416) has some stiff competition from the more expensive
Chandos releases, it also contains the world-premiere recording of the
magical Notte Di Maggio (A Night in May) for voice and orchestra, deliciously
drenched in atmospheric mystery. Casella predicted, ‘‘You’ll
love the poetic effect’’, and indeed I do. Call it Italian impressionism
(Casella was a friend ofDebussy). The same forces, the Orchestra Sinfonica
di Roma, under conductor Francesco La Vecchia, used in Naxos’
traversal of the symphonies, deliver the goods here in very compelling
performances. Cellist AndreaNoferini gives a tour de force rendition in
the Cello Concerto. These three works from 1913 (Notte), 1926 (Scarlattiana),
and 1935 (the Concerto) are different stylistically, but are all
highly attractive in their own ways, thanks to Casella’s chameleon talents
2179 and melodic gift.
Also, Supraphon Archiv (SU 3904) has resurrected the 1971 recording
that pairs Malipiero’s entrancing Violin Concerto with Casella’s
equally beguiling Violin Concerto, with violinist Andre Gertler and
2180 the Prague Symphony Orchestra, under Vaclav Smetacek. Viva Italia!
One of the most gorgeous recordings of orchestral music I have heard
in the last year also comes from an Italian composer, Ildebrando Pizzetti
(1880–1968). The Hyperion label has released a CD of four of his orchestral
works: Rondo Veneziano; Preludo a un Altro Giorno; Tre Preludii
Sinfonici; and La Pisanella, played by the BBC Scottish Symphony Or<>
chestra, under Osmo Vanska. Think of Pizzetti as Respighi without
Respighi’s occasional cinemascope vulgarity. He offers a lyrical kind of
Italian impressionism, mixed with the orchestral resources of a Richard
2181 Strauss. Lean back and let this sumptuous music flow over you.
It is a complete mystery to me how the new Naxos recording of
Pizzetti’s Concerto dell’estate (1928) could be the first one in 40 years
and the only one on CD. It is one of the most beautiful, evocative
pieces of Italian orchestral music in the 20th century. It is right up
there with Respighi and Malipiero. When you hear it, you will wonder, too, and be grateful for Naxos’ enterprise in getting the Thessaloniki
State Symphony Orchestra, under Myron Michailidis, to record
it, along with several other Pizzetti pieces, which are receiving their
recording premieres. The translation of the concerto’s name is ‘‘summer
music’’. What could be more fitting for this pastoral symphony?
It’s magic time on Naxos 8.572013.