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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Giuseppe MARTUCCI (1856-1909)
Symphony No. 1 in D minor (1888-95)
Symphony No. 2 in F major (1904)
Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra/Kees Bakels
Rec. December 2000, Dewan Filharmonik Petronas Hall, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. DDD
BIS CD-1255 [80:20]



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Until ASV launched their magnificent series of Martucci orchestral works, the music of this Italian composer, who preferred to write in forms other than opera and looked towards composers of northern Europe for inspiration, remained relatively little known. The name Martucci was more often associated with his teaching of Respighi. Alas this new recording cannot match the splendour of Naples-born Francesco d'Avalos's ASV recordings with the Philharmonia made (with the production skills of Brian B. Culverhouse) in 1989. Symphony No. 1 is on ASV CD DCA 675 with Novelletta, Notturno and Tarantella; No. 2 is available with Andante and Colore Orientale on ASV CD DCA 689. The BIS recording is an international mix by the way: a Swedish record company recording an Italian symphony performed by a Malaysian orchestra conducted by a Dutchman.

It is interesting to compare the booklet notes for the BIS and ASV releases. They emphasise quite different influences on Martucci's compositional style. In the BIS booklet, Sibelius is quoted as being owed a "considerable debt" by Martucci in his Second Symphony. In the opening movement, Bakels points up this Sibelian influence too strongly, enforcing a too simplistic rhythmic structure in comparison with d'Avalos's smoother, more subtle Sibelius references. He is much more successful in realising the subtleties of Martucci's continually shifting rhythms. His reading flows more smoothly and the atmosphere is that much warmer. Likewise d'Avalos makes the engaging Scherzo a lovely quicksilver flight of fancy reminding one of the fairy lightness of Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream. In comparison, Bakels' spirits are a glum lot. The two remaining movements of Martucci's Second Symphony are less appealing: the Adagio being rather sombre although d'Avalos succeeds much better than Bakels in pointing up the Southern Italian bitter-sweetness of the later section. The clever complexity of the final Allegro, with its marching figures and clipped modulations, diminishes its appeal and in this instance Bakels scores by driving it that much harder than d'Avalos.

The First Symphony's influences are basically Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms. Again, Bakels cannot resist shaping the material so that the Brahmsian elements are too obvious, particularly in the marvellous exciting finale. Here d'Avalos puts this influence into a lesser perspective. His more legato approach is nevertheless more thrilling (it sounds amazingly like Elgar in nobilmente mode). Throughout these two symphonies, d'Avalos's warmer (you can feel the Italian sunshine), smoother, more subtle and flexible readings seem much shorter than those of Bakels, although reference to the timings proves, more often than not, that the opposite is the case. In the opening movement of the First Symphony, D'Avalos pushes the heroic material strongly forward in an uncharacteristic quicker reading than that of Bakels who admittedly has an attractive swagger but it is slowed by Brahmsian caution. D'Avalos's view of Martucci's glorious Adagio is softer, more romantic and his Allegretto has more charm and poetry.

Disappointing, stolid performances. Turn to the ASV recordings with Francesco d'Avalos and the Philharmonia on top form to discover the considerable beauty and excitement of these glorious, neglected Martucci symphonies.

Ian Lace



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