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CD1 Contemporary Music for chamber orchestra

Chamber Orchestra of Rome, Carlo Mario Giulini, recorded 9 July 1949
G.F. MALIPIERO Mondi celesti with Magda Laszlo ( soprano)
MILHAUD L'Apotheose de Moliere
PETRASSI Sonata da camera with Egida Giordani Sartori ( harpsichord)
VLAD Divertimento for 11 instruments
Chamber Orchestra of Rome/Carlo Maria Giulin
Recorded July 1949
CD2 Turin SO/Dmitri Mitropoulos

MALIPIERO Sinfonia no. 7 della canzoni
CASELLA Ciacona after Bach
Recorded 2 June 1950
WARNER FONIT 50466-3127-2[2CDs]

The works on the first disc were commissioned by Italian Radio and first performed in Capri on 15 September 1948.

G.F. Malipiero's Mondo Celesti for voice and ten instruments is in two parts, the first being purely orchestral and vastly superior. It is, at times, extraordinarily beautiful and has a decidedly religious atmosphere and the sounds of a quiet warm day. Indeed the music has a heavenly and ethereal quality but all the music seems to have nothing but an introductory feel. The voice enters after 6'30" but I did not respond to this singer's voice as it was, at times, too heavy for a work of such evocation and contemplation. It needs a lighter and purer voice with an innocent sound. The simplicity of this amorous music is disturbed by the dominant soprano. In the instrumental parts there are some ravishingly beautiful sounds. I have often thought that this piece would have fared better with a wordless soprano part blending into the instrumental texture.

The Milhaud is hugely enjoyable music based on sonatas by the early French composer Jean Baptiste Anet (1661-1755) who was a pupil of Corelli and a virtuoso violinist in his own right. I am not convinced that Milhaud's bringing 18th century music into the 20th century really works since the spirit of the music is lost. On the positive side Milhaud eschews all those ghastly and infuriating ornaments that bedevilled this early music with those grinding rallentandos that ended movements. Nonetheless the reworking is sincere and the music is very attractive. Apart from a treble cut the sound is good, particularly with the string players, and the performance by the young Giulini is excellent. However the sound is suspect in the fast music particularly the final allegro.

With the Petrassi we encounter the first really original work on the disc. There is always a problem with the harpsichord being swamped by the orchestra and, occasionally, it is here. But all the various characteristics of the harpsichord are magnificently caught by this brilliant composer who deserves a major revival. After all, he is the father of contemporary Italian music. The opening movement, is episodic but full of interest and innovation. The tripartite adagio is quite superb - profoundly moving and never cloying. It has some subtle punctuation and evolves with great logic and coherence. There is a lachrymosal feel and occasional bursts of brief anger and the shaking of bones. It is beautifully written. The vivace is playful rather that quick and sometimes curiously subdued. It is a clever jibe at the tedium of academica - its predictability and restrictions. This work is such a contrast to the marvellous Concertos for orchestra and Petrassi's unsurpassed choral music.

Roman Vlad is a Rumanian composer born in 1919. He studied in Rome with Casella. He is the author of a book on Stravinsky and came to the Dartington Summer School in 1954 and 1955. His is a rare talent but he is ignored. This Divertimento is the best work on these two discs. It may not have the immediacy of the Milhaud but is a better piece. The opening allegretto is quick and conjures up a movie scenario of a quiet but strong wind bending trees. There is a lot of drama here and Giulini is on top form. The second movement is a theme and five variations namely a march, a waltz, a galop, an ostinato and a final largo. The movement opens with a rising tension that is really very well worked and effective. The march is sardonic and highlights the pomposity of the action with sneers and a terrific menace. The waltz is a wonderful send-up of another type of pomposity, social arrogance when overdressed members of society in the city's season indulged themselves. The slushy sickly music of the waltz is also lampooned in its attempts to conceal the sleaziness of many such ‘society’ occasions. The galop is fun with hints of A-hunting we will go but what follows is some of the creepiest music you will ever hear. With apologies to Bernard Herrmann and his excellent score for the Hitchcock film Psycho but with Vlad's music I feel that I am approaching Bates' Motel in the dark and driving rain. Scary music. The final Largo has a grandeur but, thankfully, devoid of that sickly Edwardian pomposity. The final movement is a Rondo brillantly written with layers of sound, original scales and dodecaphonic styles as well. This is an example of the most excellent craftsmanship. It abounds in an originality that is totally satisfying.

I suppose that those who will appreciate this work are those who are musicians who can detect and realise the sheer genius of it.

The second disc is of orchestral music conducted by Mitropoulos.

Malipiero contemplated writing a work based on a poem by Antonio Lamberti and which was written in a Venetian dialect. The composer often declared his love for Venice but from 1933 he toyed with this project. Its realisation was in 1948 but without a vocal or choral part and it was entitled Symphony of Songs.

The symphony begins with a short allegro. Like much of Malipiero's music it is acceptable but never special or outstanding. The second movement is marked lento quasi andante and hints at beauty even if it does not express it fully. It is pleasant enough but could be called melodic nullity. It is difficult to follow the structure and direction of the music however glowing it is … which sometimes it is. The third movement is headed allegro impetuoso but it is not impetuous. Again it is pleasant and presents no problems to the listener but, as throughout the symphony, there is nothing substantial to grab our attention. There is some choice orchestration.

The finale is a long slow movement and it is sometimes beautiful in a lukewarm sort of way. But it does not come across as a whole but, rather, as a collection of small pieces of various colours stitched together into a musical patchwork quilt.

The symphony is out of balance. In its four movement we have about eight minutes of moderately paced music and twice as much of slower music. We must continue to lament that lively and vital music seems to be lost or a mere rarity today. The wonderful vivacity and classical structure of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven has, in the main, long been discarded.

There is a revered British composer who has a hour long symphony of which only 9 minutes are brisk.

Looking at this Malipiero symphony the opening movement is merely a prelude, the second is a sunny idyll more akin to a tone poem and so on.

The music is impressionistic and it lacks any drama. It is pleasant but somewhat inconsequential.

And so to Alfredo Casella's transcription of the long Chaconne from Bach's Solo Violin Suite no. 2 in D minor. This is a movement far too long for the suite in which it is placed. Casella referred to it as a monumental masterpiece. Well, maybe, but some say it is trammelled by academic restrictions. However, I do recommend Hilary Hahn's performance of it on Sony Classics SK62793.

I am of the view that of the transcriptions of Bach's work. Stokowski was the best and Elgar the worst. In Elgar's transcription of Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, Elgar uses a harp! Casella is wiser and discerning. He is a far better composer but even this does not work! There are some good moments which one can only admire but neither the transcription nor the sound on this recording does anything. There is a lack of colour but I suppose that that could be said of the original as it only has a violin colour.

The Giulini disc is worth having for many reasons, but I am not so sure about the Mitropoulos disc!

David C F Wright

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