Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:




Flagello's music has been equated with that of Mahler, Puccini and Rachmaninov. These parallels are not hard to follow when you are in the presence of the music.

He was born in New York, of Italian extraction, and from a musical family. His younger brother, Ezio, was a famous bass who sang often at the Met.

After leaving High School he joined the All-American Youth Orchestra and played under Stokowski during his post-Philadelphia nomadic years. He studied at the Manhattan School of Music with Harold Bauer and Vittorio Giannini. His strongest link was with Giannini with whom he studied for 15 years from 1935. In the late 1940s he studied conducting with Mitropoulos.


Overture Burlesca (1952)
Piano Concerto No 2 (1956)
Credendum for violin and orchestra (1973)
A Goldoni Overture (1967)
Piano Concerto No 3 (1959)
Tatjana Rankovich (piano)
Elmar Oliveira (violin)
Slovak PO/David Amos
rec Kosice June 1995
ARTEK AR-0002-2 [67.44]


Flagello's part in the 'Italian stream' in American classical music has received scant attention. He is a New Yorker through and through but a Puccinian passion dominates rather than jazz, the blues or sardonic frivolity.

Mention of verismo operatic high jinks may be misleading. There is a touch of 'blood and thunder' but the 'bel canto' strain is more relevant. So it is a case of less Puccini and more early Malipiero, Respighi and Martucci.

Credendum while essentially a singing work is a 'frosted glass'. If you know the Arthur Bliss Violin Concerto in its less exuberant episodes you will know what to expect. It is a matter of accent. The voice, though, is still locked deep in the bedrock of romantic tonality. Credendum (like the identically named orchestral work by William Schuman) refers to a statement of faith and this is a serious work of reflection with some rolling horn-lofted climaxes recalling the Aulis Sallinen First Symphony. If the cradled tenderness of the Walton and Barber violin concertos hits you towards the end (11.03) the soft gong strokes at the close provide an 'earth' for the gleamingly spun introspection of the violin in the closing measures.

The Goldoni Overture written as a 'vorspiel' to Giannini's final opera is not entirely the 'glitter and skitter' item you might have expected. Howard Hanson is a beneficent influence on the brass writing. The work has some of the zippy levity of Walton's Portsmouth Point - a character it shares with the Overture Burlesca which launches like an emotionally clipped version of the scherzo of the Moeran symphony.

As the notes point out, the Third Piano Concerto is separated from No 2 by a decade. It is a steelier statement but the shapely grandeur of the climax at 7.10 leaves us in no doubt of Flagello's allegiance to the romantic impulse also much in evidence in the guileless slightly doom-ridden peak of the middle movement. With its tubular bells the movement strikes a note familiar from Alwyn's Symphony No. 5 Hydriotaphia - all cortège, funereal triumph and Sibelian resolve. The granitic finale lacks articulation. Its ghoulish mesmerising tone is straight out of Liszt's Totentanz and Herrmann's Concerto Macabre.

The earlier piano concerto splices the heroics of the Arthur Bliss Piano Concerto with a Prokofievian élan. There is a frank tuneful impulse at work among the soliloquising and the barn-storming crescendi. I can imagine Flagello having enjoyed the Bortkiewicz Piano Concertos 2 and 3 as much as Bortkiewicz might have enjoyed Flagello's. Rachmaninov was also an influence - listen to 4.48 in the allegro giusto. In the second movement we encounter cooling and leaf-touched woodwind writing with the eerie bell tones of Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto. Blissy heroism, now sulphur-dosed, rears up again for the finale. As in the earlier concerto Rankovitch is beyond negative criticism though the orchestra's intonation is sometimes, at the very least, suspect.

Now Artek, let's have the first and fourth concertos on a single disc and with Rankovich as the soloist.

A strong recommendation for anyone who, having started exploration with the Naxos American Classics series, would like to delve deeper into 20th Century Romantic Americana.

Rob Barnett

Serenata (1968)
The Land - song cycle (1954)
Symphony No. 2 Symphony of the Winds (1970)
Symphonic Waltzes for solo piano (1958)
Ezio Flagello (bass)
Tatjana Rankovich (solo piano)
Orchestra da Camera di Roma/Nicolas Flagello
I Musici di Firenze/Nicolas Flagello
rec Serenata (Rome 1968); The Land (1962), Symphony (1979), Waltzes (12/7/1994)
CITADEL CTD 88115 [74.38]
  Amazon US

Citadel are one of those 'obscure' labels that lack a high or even middling profile. They have a decent website but, like Phoenix and Artek (both of which have websites and each of which has a single Flagello CD in their lists), they remain determinedly modest about their strong catalogue. That they have Tom Null as their producer is a mark of their quiet and competent distinction. Their flair for non-obvious but adventurously rewarding repertoire is patent from their catalogue.

The Serenata for small orchestra was composed in Rome. It is an archetype of post-modern romanticism. In the Psalmus its warm and floating Delian susurration melts into music recalling Barber (minus the angst) and Howard Hanson not to mention the famous Bruch violin concerto. A total change of mood in the second movement moves into Pulcinella world - anxious, oleaginous, lickerishly rhythmic. Before the hectic, carefree, fast-striding skip of the finale we progress through the music of epic poetry. This music reminded me of the work of Lopes-Graca which I reviewed on a number of Portusom CDs a couple of months ago.

The Land (not to be confused with Maconchy's orchestral suite) is a song cycle with orchestra in which the composer's brother is the singer. The poems are by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. They progress through the Dickensian alley-fog of The Eagle to the Britten and (Geoffrey!) Bush inflected The Throstle to the Petrushka-like exultation and Abschied of The Oak, the nativity celebration of The Snowdrop and the stertorous bells of Flower in the Cranny.

In 1979 Marice Stith conducted the Cornell Wind Ensemble in the premiere of Symphony of the Winds. I would have liked to have had Flagello's Symphony No. 1 on this disc as well. I know the First Symphony (1968) from a radio tape of the composer conducting the Manhattan SO. That first symphony is a work of electric atmosphere: tragic and heroic as the liner notes indicate. The second symphony is an importunate, angst-ridden and gloomy carousel charged with aggressive vitality and framing a central movement which does not travel hopefully.

Rankovich, who has already recorded a very fine anthology of piano works by Creston, Giannini and Flagello on Phoenix (reviewed elsewhere on this site), unites two of the three Flagello CDs. These waltzes are a version of the suite we know as the Lautrec Suite (included in orchestral form on the Phoenix disc). They evoke turn of the century Paris: dangerous and romantic in equal measure. The first waltz is influenced by Prokofiev and Rachmaninov - a swirling exhalation of notes - while the second is a 'valse triste' rising to a stormily aristocratic statement. Rankovitch despatches the final 'psychological' waltz in the adept and exciting style we fully expect from her performances of the two piano concertos.

Citadel valuably and generously contribute to the small Flagello discography. I hope they can sort out a tape of the First Symphony and Missa Sinfonica at some point and perhaps couple these with several Giannini symphonies (not No. 3) or his Psalm 130 for cello and orchestra.

Rob Barnett

Jabberwocky Productions e-mail:
P O Box 3269
Santa Monica, CA 90408 FAX: (310) 829-9447

She Walks in Beauty (1957)
Capriccio for cello and orchestra (1962)
Lautrec - Ballet suite (1965)
Remembrance (1971)
Contemplazioni Michelangelo (1964)
George Koutzen - cello
Joann Grillo - soprano (She Walks)
Maya Randolph - soprano (Remembrance)
Nancy Tatum - soprano (Contemplazioni)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma/Nicolas Flagello
rec 1960s and 1970s?
PHOENIX PHCD 125 [65.51]
Amazon US

What is it about Byron's poem 'She Walks in Beauty'? It clearly touched off emotionally direct responses in both Otto Luening and Nicolas Flagello. Luening's setting (in the recent and very fine collection of Luening and Starer songs on Parnassus) is hymn-like and folksy - rather like a homely sampler (think also of Leo Smit's Dickinson songs on Bridge). Flagello's is luxurious; a Rodgers and Hammerstein treatment (think of the song 'Out of my heart and into your dreams') touched with the grand operatic air of Barber's Vanessa. A little winner!

From a truly beautiful song we move into darker oceans with Capriccio. Devotees of the Walton Cello Concerto, Rubbra Soliloquy and Sibelius's Fourth Symphony will know what to expect. Flagello walks along the shores of the same desolate lake favoured by Warlock and van Dieren. While the line between profound and gloomy can be difficult to discern Flagello treads it like a master. You can cut the atmosphere with a very broad shovel. The jagged shrieks of the orchestra at 3.33 recalls the Bloch of Schelomo but this is a distinctive work of great power - Flagello has his own voice. The statement at 13.43 is one of major lyrical eminence. A work of extraordinary grip.

After all this tension the suite provides some relief but by no means as much as you might expect. It shimmers darkly, waltzing and spinning; at times the echo of a screeching carousel; at others redolent of the Tunisian vocal tradition beloved of Peggy Glanville-Hicks. One wonders if Flagello is one of those composers who have inspired Sondheim in his waltz-haunted masterworks of twentieth century musical theatre. The Moulin Rouge track is a tenebrous 'valse lugubre' - anxious, desperate, choleric and tracing its lineage to Ravel's La Valse.

Remembrance is suitably nostalgic and wonderfully presented by Maya Randolph. The twining flute line nicely sets off Randolph's unstrained high notes. Nancy Tatum is in less healthy voice for the Michelangelo Contemplations and while the last song is charged with truculent vitality the remainder do not register strongly.

All texts are printed in the booklet.

This disc, which has been around since 1991, is highly desirable for the first three works on the disc. In many ways this is the place to start for Flagello initiates who favour the vocal tradition.

Rob Barnett

Phoenix USA

200 Winston Drive - Cliffside Park - New Jersey 07010

Phone: 201 224-8318 Fax: 201 224-7968 E-Mail:

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