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Nicolas FLAGELLO (1928-1994)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1950) [28:48]
Dante's Farewell (1962) (orch. Anthony Sbordini) [13:43]
Concerto Sinfonico for saxophone quartet and orchestra (1985) [22:53]
Tatjana Rankovich (piano)
Susan Gonzalez (soprano)
National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/John McLaughlin Williams
New Hudson Saxophone Quartet
Rutgers Symphony Orchestra/Kynan Johns
rec. Large Concert Studio, National Radio Company of Ukraine (Kiev), 22-26 June 2005; Mason Gross Performing Arts Center, Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA, 6 November 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.559296 [65:28]


This is the second Flagello disc from Naxos. The first, reviewed here, included the hyper-romantic First Symphony. Like many another Flagello recording project this disc is due to Walter Simmons whose passionate yet objective advocacy for a generation of unfashionable American composers should be a matter of nationally treasured pride in the USA. You can read more about six of 'his' composers in the book "Voices in the Wilderness" (Scarecrow Press) an invaluable read for those with a sense of adventure in this repertoire. review

Flagello was born in New York City. The precocious young man soon came under the wing of another American late-romantic with Italian roots, Vittorio Giannini and studied with him at the Manhattan School of Music. In 1985 after many years as a composer and conductor he began to suffer from a degenerative illness and survived in tragic musical silence another nine years.

Going by the early Piano Concerto No. 1 Flagello's music is that of a tortured soul. Welts and wounds are exposed and the pain communicated. This is music of grandstand torment. The hyper-emotionalism and consistent heat of the writing leaves the listener suspended between Rachmaninov (Piano Concerto No. 3), Barber (the Essays) and Miaskovsky. As ever these are crude approximations but will give some idea of the realms of Flagello's expression. Flagello has no truck with trendy dissonance. He could not help making himself an outsider by writing a piano concerto like this in 1950.

Tatjana Rankovich knows Flagello's music very well having recorded the other two concertos for Artek review She relishes and rejoices in the frankly gorgeous melody of the Andante. The sparky and triumphant (4:40) finale will delight Rachmaninov admirers. Unusually for a rare piano concerto this movement maintains a consistency of mood with all that has gone before.

Dante's Farewell is a volatile operatic scena, corrosively assaulting the senses, fulminant and accelerant in one. The style can be related to the superheated arias in Barber's grand opera Antony and Cleopatra. Susan Gonzalez sings this music with affection and flaming emotion. The text is by Joseph Tusiani and recounts, from the viewpoint of Gemma, Dante's wife, the great Italian poet's nightmare dilemmas and emotional angst. The words are printed in full. The orchestration was made at the request of the Flagello estate and is by Anthony Sbordoni. Knowing more than a few of Flagello's other works this adaptation strikes me as completely consonant with the authentic Flagello style and spirit.

The Concerto Sinfonico is Flagello's last completed work. Typically it confronts and articulates torment and beauty; listen to the harp and celesta backdrop at is 5:10 in the first movement which prepares the way for the exultation of 6:23 onwards. The work is lent vigour and grit by a certain stamping energy slightly redolent of William Schuman. Towards the end of the movement a vengeful hunt seems to drive the music onwards to a destination that is part abyss and part triumphant apotheosis. It's powerful stuff. The quartet act as hortator and participant. There is no sense of separation or commentatory role. It was first performed by the Amherst Quartet with the Buffalo Phil conducted by Semyon Bychkov in November 1985.

You will know by now whether this music is for you. It merits a wholehearted endorsement.

Rob Barnett


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