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Ermanno WOLF-FERRARI (1876-1948)
Idillio Concertino for oboe, strings and two horns, Op.15 (1932) [18:51]
Concertino for English horn, strings and two horns, Op.34 (1947) [24:33]
Suite Concertino for bassoon, strings and two horns, Op.16 (1933) [19:24]
Piet van Bockstal (oboe, English horn)
Luc Loubry (bassoon)
West Saxony Symphony Orchestra (Westsächisches Symphonieorchester)/Hans Rotman
rec. 3-5 May 2003, unnamed church, Leipzig, Germany. DDD

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Every now and then one receives a disc of unfamiliar music and after the initial sense of trepidation the recording joyously reveals itself as a breath of fresh air. This fine release from independent Belgium label Talent Records contains excellent performances of three woodwind concertos from the pen of Italian composer Wolf-Ferrari.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was born in 1876 in Venice, Italy. The son of a German father and an Italian mother, he spent his life between Munich and Venice; in Germany longing for Italy and vice versa. This geographical division was also the foundation of his creative existence. It was very early in his life that Wolf-Ferrari enjoyed great cultural success, winning international fame with his choral work La vita nuova and the opera Le donne curiose.

Wolf-Ferrari’s output includes oratorios, choral and orchestral works, chamber music and songs. He completed thirteen operas that often drew on idioms of 18th century music. His three serious operas are The Garment of Heaven, Sly and The Jewels of Madonna. Of his ten comic operas Susanna's Secret; The Inquisitive Women and The four Ruffians are the best known. Of all his operas Wolf-Ferrari loved most his fairy-tale opera The Garment of Heaven and the ones most likely to be encountered on stage and on recordings are Sly; The Jewels of Madonna and Susanna's Secret.

Wolf-Ferrari’s last years were clouded by the terrors of the Second World War and its consequences. Suffering from heart disease, he strongly dedicated himself once again to his old love, chamber music. He died of a heart attack in Venice in 1948.

Although predominantly known as prolific composer of operas, Wolf-Ferrari is also highly regarded for his composition of chamber music and concertante wind music. Until 1903 he had published only his Serenade for Strings (1894) and a Sinfonia da Camera (Chamber Symphony), Op. 8 and it was not until the 1930s that he returned to this genre. The first fruits of this return came in 1932 with the Idillio Concertino and a year later the Suite Concertino.

The four movement Idillio Concertino is a fine example of Wolf-Ferrari’s nearly filmic music and is composed in a light, late-Romantic vein. The solo oboe is used more or less as an equal partner of the orchestra rather than a pure solo instrument. The strings are augmented with the bucolic character of two horns. Belgium oboist Piet van Bockstal is in remarkable form and his expressive playing conveys confidence and immediacy. Van Bockstal skips his way expertly through the final movement Rondo, however, it did feel that a quicker tempo was required for the Scherzo.

The Suite Concertino is cast in four movements and consists of both late-Romantic and neo-Classical elements. Wolf-Ferrari’s addition of two horns is subtly employed adding extra colour to the string sound. It has been said that the elegant and transparent style is evocative of Mozart’s famous serenades. Luc Loubry the Belgium bassoonist is an admirably poised soloist, conveying fluency and masterly phrasing. My highlight of the whole release is Loubry’s accomplished playing of the short but extremely melodic Strimpellata - Presto, a movement that could easily find popularity if it was used as the theme music for a television or radio programme.

The Concertino Op.34 dates from 1947 and was Wolf-Ferrari’s last score, having to wait until the 1960s for its first performance. This four movement piece displays many similarities in style and construction to the Suite Concertino. The English horn or cor anglais, as it is also known, is an unusual choice as a solo instrument. Here Wolf-Ferrari frequently treats it as an orchestral instrument rather than as purely a solo voice. Soloist Piet van Bockstal gives it a stylish and alarmingly unaffected reading. I especially enjoyed van Bockstal’s sparkling and accomplished interpretations of the outer movements Prelude and Finale.

Under the expert direction of Hans Rotman his West Saxony Symphony Orchestra provides sympathetic and poised performances. Using the excellent acoustic of a Leipzig church the engineers have provided a cool, clear and well balanced sound quality. Although not without some errors and omissions the annotation is interesting and informative.

The Talent Records label should be proud of this wonderfully performed and recorded release. Lovers of late-Romantic music who are looking for something different are well advised to investigate these fascinating and rewarding scores.

Michael Cookson


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