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Nicolas FLAGELLO (1928 – 1994)
Symphony No.1 (1964/8)
Sea Cliffs (1957)
Intermezzo from The Piper of Hamelin (1969)
Theme, Variations and Fugue (1956)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/David Amos
Recorded: Concert Hall, Slovak Radio, Bratislava, November 2001
NAXOS 8.559148 [63:49]

Flagello’s early works, written when was still a boy of 10 or so, were brought to the attention of the composer Vittorio Giannini who became his mentor and friend. He studied at the Manhattan School of Music and later taught there as well as at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Winning a Fulbright Fellowship in 1955 allowed him to go to Rome and study with Pizzetti at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. At that time, he composed his Theme, Variations and Fugue, one of his earliest major works, although he already had a number of works to his credit including two operas, a piano concerto and a flute concerto. This imposing substantial work is thus no mere prentice piece. Quite the contrary. The rather sombre and ominous theme is followed by a set of nine sizeable variations displaying the many facets of Flagello’s talents as well as some considerable formal mastery. The piece is rounded-off by a powerful fugue culminating in a monumental coda, with much percussion and organ.

Flagello’s ability to work in the long term, in long paragraphs, is also fully displayed in the impressive Symphony No.1 completed in 1968 and first performed in 1971 by the Manhattan School of Music symphony orchestra conducted by the composer. This big-boned Neo-romantic symphony is on a large scale. Its four movements play for more than half an hour. The first three (Allegro molto, Andante lento and Allegretto brusco) are roughly of equal length. The heart of the symphony, however, lies in the weighty final Ciaccona. The Allegro molto roughly cast in sonata-allegro form opens with a bold motif on which the entire symphony is based. The music moves forward with energy to reach a mighty climax. The second movement Andante lento is a large-scale song for orchestra building towards an imposing climax before winding its way back to the mood of the opening. The third movement is a rather ironic and at times bitter-sweet Scherzo-and-trio. The final Ciaccona is another substantial theme and variations culminating in a full orchestral blaze.

Sea Cliffs for strings is a much shorter and relaxed piece of music, a beautiful barcarolle, that could find its place in any American String Miniatures disc, if such was ever planned. This is a beautifully atmospheric miniature of great charm, suitable for amateur players.

The Manhattan School of Music’s Preparatory Division commissioned an opera that could be performed and enjoyed by children. Flagello based his libretto on Robert Browning’s poem The Pied Piper of Hamelin. The music is tuneful and straightforward, although the composer did not write down to his younger performers, as can be appreciated in the Intermezzo recorded here, a miniature tone poem in all but the name.

Flagello’s music is fairly traditional and much indebted to the Neo-romantic tradition, and clearly imbued with what Stanford used to refer to as ‘The Eternal Verities’. It is superbly crafted and displays a remarkable formal mastery and orchestral flair. Keep in mind that Flagello was also much active as a conductor (I still cherish an old LP of his [Peters PLE 054 published in 1977, nla] including the then unrecorded Light Music by Rawsthorne and the Five Aquarelles by Francis Chagrin that still await first modern recordings); and, as a result, possessed an intimate knowledge of the orchestra.

In short, warmly Romantic music of considerable substance and expressive strength, in excellent performances and well recorded. Well worth more than the occasional hearing.

Hubert Culot

see also review by Rob Barnett

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