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Gian Francesco MALIPIERO (1882-1973)
Fantasie di Ogni Giorno (1953) [13:04]
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3 (1948) [16:27]
Notturno di Canti e Balli (1957) [19:05]
Benjamin Owen, piano
Louisville Orchestra/Robert Whitney
Recorded in the Columbia Auditorium and the Macauley Theater, Louisville, KY in 1954, 1960 and 1966 respectively. Mono and Stereo.
FIRST EDITION MUSIC FECD-0036 [48:56]


First Edition Music continues their valuable series of re-issues from the famous Louisville twentieth century music archive. Throughout the latter half of the last century, the Louisville Orchestra made it their mission to promote and commission the music of living composers. The results are varied, but they did manage in their ambitious recording projects to capture a portrait of musical life during the period.

Perhaps the main reason that the music composed before 1900 is so continually popular with audiences is that, unlike much of the work that followed it, it had the continuity of structure and melodic content that made it more or less immediately memorable. Compositions had a clearly discernable form, a theme followed by development of that theme, followed by a distinct conclusion. The themes themselves were also notable for their tunefulness, or for a distinct rhythmic gesture that could be remembered, that had some sort of emotional impact. The best known of course is the ta-ta-ta tahhhhh of Beethoven’s fifth symphony.

It seems to me, however, that many composers of the early modern era went wheels-off when it came to form and structure. The advent of atonality also brought with it a neglect of formal structure, leaving composers to meander in the thematic desert, making gestures that did not connect to each other, and did not have any inherent meaning of their own.

Such is the case with these three works by Gian Francesco Malipiero, whose long life allowed him to create a great deal of music, most of which is today rather forgotten. From the sound of these works, it is no wonder. A rebel against the verismo style of his Italian classmates (he was born into the world of Mascagni, Puccini and Verdi), Malipiero struck out on his own, embraced certain elements of atonal music, but on the whole, kept his works at least listenable if not memorable.

The Fantasie di Ogni Giorno, can be seen as a brief summary of the composer’s daily life. It displays the energy of the morning, a mid-day repose, and a renewed strength after rest. It contains some interesting sounds, but even after repeated listening, I cannot find a tune from it in my head. I remember that the sounds were colorful, that there was a certain skill in the orchestration, and that the various families of instruments were exploited, but what of it? I remember also that the orchestra played well in tune and with a good sense of rhythmic drive and motion, but I cannot remember much about the music, which tells me that there was not much there to remember in the first place.

The piano concerto is a work of what I found to be rather empty virtuosity. It desperately wants to be Prokofiev, but fails as there is little to hold it together other than a bunch of keyboard flourishes followed by some requisite softer passages, followed again by more flash. It is a rhythmic work to be sure, but again, even after a second and third listening, my only real impression of the work is that it must have been difficult for the soloist to memorize, as there was so little to hang on to.

The Notturno is slightly more interesting in that it seems to be designed as more of a work of impressions. Again, colorful orchestration and interesting soundscapes make it worth a hearing perhaps.

It is distressing to be so negative about another musician’s work, but it seems to me that the large group of prolific and forgotten composers from the last century did the damage to themselves. They painted musical pictures with an abstract mindset, when formality and structure is what truly keeps music alive.

For specialist listeners only.

Kevin Sutton

 



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