Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

GIANNINI (1903-1966)
Concerto Grosso for string quartet and string orchestra (1946)
Prelude and Fugue (1955)
 FLAGELLO (1928-1994)
Andante Languido (1959)
Serenata per Orchestra (1968)
Harvest (1945)
New Russia Orchestra/David Amos
rec 31 Aug - 2 Sept 1994, Moscow
AmazonUK  £14.99  AmazonUS $15.49

It is one of the delights of this site that one gets to recommend discs that elsewhere are disdained for no virtuous reason. This is one of those experiences.

Territory: American romantic. Closer to Barber than to Hanson. More Mediterranean than Scandinavian. More Walton than Moeran.

Vittorio Giannini and his pupil Nicolas Flagello stand with Creston and Menotti as exemplars of the Italian tradition. Flagello reviews can be found grouped elsewhere on this site. Giannini is devastatingly poorly represented in the catalogue. I know his symphonies from scrawny radio broadcasts but even through all the aural chaff I have known that he has a voice of lyric power, tortured and ecstatic.

Giannini's Concerto Grosso is the blessed antithesis of the desiccated neo-classical tendency that swept bloodlessly through the twentieth century. It is a work of passion, power and warmth. This is big-boned music for strings with its blood brethren in the Elgar Introduction and Allegro, the Bliss Music for Strings and At the Haunted End of the Day from Walton's Troilus and Cressida. The still centre is a Moderato as long as the two flanking movements put together. I urge you to hear this work which has a quartet in loquaciously juicy dialogue with the full string body. The giddy romance of the Prelude decked in gorgeous polyphonic finery takes us towards Barber's Adagio and Finzi's string music while the Fugue leads us breathlessly through the terraced antiphonal fields of the Elgar.

Flagello's music is collegiate with Giannini's. However his 'take' on the lyrical stream broods in chilly reverie. This is certainly true of the Andante Languido (and the Siciliana of the Serenata) which is the second movement of the Concerto for String Orchestra (a pity that space was not found for the whole work - it would have paired neatly with the Giannini Concerto Grosso). It rises to an angry intensity before subsiding - all passion spent. The Serenata, after six tracks of music for string band takes us into a four movement 'dream vision' scored for chamber orchestra although the orchestra in fact sounds generously specified. The Psalmus (note that Giannini wrote a symphonic-scale Psalm for cello and strings) is a relaxed nostalgic hymn and his mastery of instrumentational effect is never ever in doubt - listen to the master-stroke of the solo horn at 3.45 (track 7). This music resounds with agreeable Mid-West visions like those warm Aestival evenings suggested by Barber's Knoxville and if the Passe-Pied is Stravinsky-inflected this is no flaccid archaic exercise. Listen to the swinging attack of the strings (4.01) in the Siciliana and the heavyweight grunt and thud in the Giga. A joyous zest guided Flagello's hand in the Giga. Do not be put off by these movement titles either.

After Giannini and Flagello you may well be steeling yourself for transition to over-the-top slice of kitschery from Gould. Not a bit of it. Harvest is a transatlantic partner to Schoeck's own harvest piece Sommernacht. The work is scored for strings, harp and that instrument that forms the hallmark of Roy Harris's epic symphonies, the vibraphone. There is not a cheap-shot in sight and the polyphonic and harmonic collisions, the rapid yearning strokes and the vibraphone's sustaining glow evince lessons learnt at Harris's feet. Played as an 'innocent ear' item I would 'unerringly' have identified this as some lost work by Roy Harris. It is lovely; lovingly balanced and played by the artists. Much as the first 8 minutes are in debt to Harris so the final 4 minutes sheer off towards a Copland hoe-down and the gingham celebrations of Harris's Folksong Symphony (No. 4). The vibraphone's lambent echo closes a masterly slice of Americana.

David Amos, the Vernon Handley of the American repertoire, never does anything by halves. He and his orchestra obliterate any suspicion that these sessions would be time-server events. The Russian Orchestra sounds big and sounds caught up in the 'action'. No short change here.

There is good cause also to thank the Shiseido Corporation who financially supported this recording.

Rob Barnett

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