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Piano Quintet No.1 in F minor, Op.4
Two Pieces* for violin and piano, Op.24
Gondoliera* for violin and piano, Op.29
Romanzafor cello and piano, Op.23.
Francesco Caramiello (piano)
Ex Novo Quartet: Carlo Lazari* (violin); Annamaria Pellegrino (violin)
Mario Paladin (viola) Carlo Teodoro† (cello)
ASV CD DCA 1029 [67:21]
(This recording was released in 1998)

Sir Edward Elgar was in Rome early in 1907, and again as that year turned into 1908. Whilst he was there he was befriended by one of the leading figures of secular music in Italy - Giovanni Sgambati. Sgambati gave a reception for the Elgars on their earlier visit and, during their later stay, proposed that Elgar conduct an all-Elgar concert in a series that had already included personal appearances by Debussy, Sibelius and Strauss. But the hall was cavernous and full of echo, so Elgar declined. Nevertheless, Sgambati and Elgar remained on friendly terms until the Italian composer died in 1914. Sgambati symbolised a struggle to free Italian music from a complete dominance of opera in favour of instrumental, chamber and orchestral music. He was an early link in the chain of late 19th/early 20th century Italian music that included the, perhaps, more familiar name, Martucci (who frankly wrote stronger works), down to Martucci's student Ottorino Respighi.

I mention all this because the thing that struck me forcibly was how Elgarian at least one of the Sgambati miniatures on this album sounds - the Andante cantabile for piano and violin which is the most substantial of the Two Pieces for violin and piano. Sgambati tended to be inspired by Northern European music, notably Liszt, Wagner, Schumann and Brahms. These are discernible in all the works in this collection and, especially in the charming miniatures, there is also the sun and warmth of Italy. Indeed in the Gondoliera, you have a sense of gently moving waters beneath a gondola gliding along a moonlit Venetia canal carrying lovers oblivious to everything but themselves.

The main work on the disc is Sgambati's Piano Quintet which was admired by both Liszt and Wagner. It was composed in 1866, and one cannot help wondering, judging by its heroic nature - in many places it's as though one was listening to a fully-fledged, bravura Late Romantic piano concerto - wondering whether the turbulence of the events in Rome during the Risorgimento (Rome was embraced into the new Italy, last, in 1870) had in any way inspired its drama. There is plenty of restless energy in the powerful first movement, while the vivacissimo second movement is just that; contrasted with amiable reflective strolling material. The andante sostenuto movement that follows is intimate, quiet and quaintly lyrical with passages of passionate intensity. The final movement moves from a belligerent march to coyness with many moods in between.

Francesco Caramiello and the Ex Novo Quartet give sparkling committed performances.

Ian Lace

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