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Gian Francesco MALIPIERO (1882-1973)
The Symphonies - Volume 1
Sinfonia del Mare (1906) [23:41]
Symphony No. 3 “delle campane” (1944) [23:50]
Symphony No. 4 “In memoriam” (1944-45) [24:58]
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Antonio de Almeida
rec. Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, May-June 1993
first issued as Marco Polo 8.223602
NAXOS 8.570878 [72:29]
Experience Classicsonline

The Venetian-born Malipiero wrote eleven numbered symphonies as well as the ‘Sinfonia del Mare’ stretching from 1906 to 1969. It was the Marco Polo label that presented them to us originally in the mid-1990s. It’s good that Naxos have now re-issued them at budget price in the hope that more music-lovers will tackle these rarely heard works. This disc and the ones that will follow also act as a firm memorial to that most quick-learning and versatile conductor Antonio de Almeida who died suddenly whilst conducting in Pittsburgh in 1997.

Malipiero was an extraordinarily prolific composer and that may be part of the problem. Like Darius Milhaud, a similarly productive composer, he has been largely ignored. This seems to be on the grounds that there is so much to take in, with such a huge journey of adventure, that it might be best never to start. Well this disc is quite probably a very good place to start.

Malipiero is a composer of several styles and to a certain extent you can see them developing in these three works. It’s best to start with the ‘Sinfonia del Mare’ which is not much more than a student work - the composer was 24. It contains the seeds of what is going to happen in later years. I first heard this disc whilst sitting on a sun-lounger in glorious sunshine overlooking the Adriatic near Ravenna. The calmness and delicacy of the work’s opening matched the scene perfectly. So did the more troublesome and windy section which takes up its middle portion - the Adriatic can be a harsh taskmaster on sailing boats and can quixotically change its mood. All this is so superbly summed up in this arch-shaped work. I have returned to it quite a few times since then and with increasing pleasure. It should also be remembered, as John Waterhouse says in his very interesting booklet notes, that the composer had not yet been able to meet “the better known sea music of Debussy which had been completed only a few months before”. There are three Sinfonias dating from the first decade of the century. The previous one had been the ‘Sinfonia degli eroi’ of 1905. After that Malipiero only used the term ‘Symphony’.

The Third Symphony also offered much pleasure in its four movements based on and inspired by bellringers, especially those of St.Mark’s Venice at the end of the war. Here I must add that the orchestral playing of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra sometimes falls below international standard, especially in the sound of the brass when exposed and in the high string passages. One can mostly put this down to rushed rehearsal schedules and unfamiliarity with the repertoire. The Malipiero symphonies should nevertheless be looked at again and this time by a top-flight orchestra. Only then may full justice be done to them. Having said that the ‘Sinfonia del Mare’ comes off well as do parts of this work. The Andante second movement is particularly beautifully played.

Malipiero enjoys the cor anglais but it sounds a little too nasal here – at least for my taste. It’s nevertheless interesting that he often gives it rather oriental melodies which emphasize the augmented second interval. The Scherzo is placed third and is a very brief but rhythmically fascinating creation. The work ends in a Lento with its “slow, solemn tread and the most realistic bell-evocations of them all”. The closing epilogue comprises the “more fully-scored, affirmatively bell-like return of the second movement’s entire first section”. Apparently Ernst Ansermet who knew the composer well commented very astutely: “these symphonies are not thematic but motivic, that is to say Malipiero uses melodic motifs … which generate other melodic motifs … they reappear, but they do not carry the musical discourse - they are, rather, carried by it”. As you listen you realize the veracity of this remark. For example his use of progressive tonality where the composer often ends a movement in a key unrelated to the one in which it started.

The Fourth Symphony is a more serious affair, ending in a long Lento - the longest of its four movements. It also includes an almost Stravinskian Scherzo. The slow movement is said to be the most beautiful which the composer penned. This is not surprising really as it was written in memory of Natalie Koussevitzky. Her death also resulted in Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Britten’s Peter Grimes, both works also dedicated to her memory. Perhaps one can also see this piece as a memorial to the war dead with its reflective ending featuring the cor anglais again.

As I have implied, I missed these symphonies first time around on Marco Polo, probably because of mediocre reviews. Despite the ordinariness of the orchestral playing and the somewhat boxy recording I am looking forward to the next disc in the series and to discovering more about a composer in whom the record industry has taken little interest.

Gary Higginson 

see also Review by John France


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