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Mario PILATI (1903-1938)
Concerto for Orchestra in C major (1931-32) [25:51] *
Three Pieces for Orchestra (1929) [15:04]
Suite for Strings and Piano (1925) [14:21]
By the Cradle (Alla culla – Ninna-nanna) (1938) [5:44]
Tomáš Nemec (piano)
Slovak Symphony Orchestra/Adriano
rec. May, 2000* and January 2001, Concert Hall of Slovak Radio, Bratislava
NAXOS 8.570873 [61:16]
Experience Classicsonline

Formerly issued on Marco Polo 8.225156, this CD provides a pleasant sampler of the orchestral music of one of the minor, but interesting, figures in Italian music of the first half of the twentieth century. Pilati – whose life was cut short by illness – achieved a fair degree of success in his lifetime, as composer, critic and teacher. Born in Naples he studied music there with Antonio Savasta and his early efforts at composition were encouraged by Francesco Cilea. In 1925 he moved to Milan, where he worked as a music critic, as an arranger of vocal scores for Casa Ricordi and as a teacher - Gianandrea Gavazzeni was amongst his pupils. Gradually his work as a composer attracted more and more interest – of the works on this CD the premiere of the Concerto for Orchestra was conducted (in Venice) by Mitropoulos and a later performance in Naples was conducted by Felix Weingartner; the first performance of the Three Pieces (Tre Pezzi) was given in Naples, conducted by Franco Capuana. From 1930 until his illness overtook him he held professorial positions in Naples and Palermo. Since his death, however, his star has waned somewhat. He doesn’t even merit a mention, for example, in the 2002 Dizionario della Musica Classica Italiana, edited by Marc Vignal (and revised by Leoncarlo Settimelli), published in Rome by Gremese Editore. I do remember once hearing a performance of an impressive piano quintet - at least it sounded impressive on a single hearing - on Italian radio, but one doesn’t get many chances to hear his music.

I think it is wrong to give way to the temptation to present Pilati in terms of the romantic archetype of the genius who died young. The Swiss conductor Adriano talks of him in rather those terms in the booklet note to this CD. But that, I think, is to inflate Pilati and his music in ways which may actually do him a disservice by leading to false expectations. On the evidence of these orchestral works, Pilati was a very competent, mature composer, whose work is marked by high craftsmanship and by an eclectic openness to influences – but not by the kind of individuality and originality one might reasonably think to be amongst the hallmarks of genius.

The Concerto for Orchestra is an attractive work, essentially neoclassical and in that modern tradition of the revived concerto grosso. The orchestral writing is often quite lush; the central adagio is an attractive piece of neoclassical revivalism and the closing movement (‘Rondo alla tirolese: Allegro pesante e ben ritmato’) draws on what sound like genuine folk melodies to good effect. The three movements are linked by the reiteration and subtle transformation of common material. While this Concerto doesn’t strike me as a neglected masterpiece, it would certainly reward concert performance nowadays. The Three Pieces are particularly attractive, and the performance here is elegant and persuasively dance-like, the three pieces being, respectively, a minuetto, a habanera and a furlana. The example and influence of Ravel is not hard to detect here, but the results are pleasant even if not especially innovative or individual. The one work I found rather disappointing was the Suite for Strings and Piano. It may be relevant to note that it is the earliest work here; the two central movements – again based on dances (a sarabanda and another minuetto) – are perhaps the most pleasing parts of a rather slight and scrappy work. The two outer movements, though not labelled as such, turn out to be a pavane and a toccata.  The CD closes with a work which is ‘slight’ in another sense – a brief and unpretentious Cradle Song, completed only three weeks before Pilati’s death. It is a beautiful miniature, a piece of melancholy refinement, dignified and yet full of sentiment. It is surely not too fanciful to hear in it the composer’s knowledge of his own approaching death, so that it speaks of more than one kind of ‘sleep’ and is, as it were, as much a ‘Grave Song’ as it is a Cradle Song - one friend to whom I played it ‘blind’ wondered, not unreasonably, if it wasn’t a piece by Fauré that he had never heard before. Anyone who has a taste for the tonal music of this period will surely be impressed by this brief piece, and will just as surely find things of interest - if not of any startling individuality - elsewhere on the disc.

Glyn Pursglove


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