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Nino ROTA (1911–1979)
Sinfonia sopra una Canzone d’Amore (1972) [29:31] (I. Allegro [8:27] II. Allegro vivace [4:59] III. Andante sostenuto [9:05] IV. Allegro impetuoso [7:00])
Concerto-Soirée for piano and orchestra (1961) [19:44] (I. Valzer-Fantasia - Tempo di Valzer tranquillo [5:14] II. Ballo figurato - Allegretto calmo, con spirito [3:08] III. Romanza - Andante malinconico [4:27] IV. Quadriglia - Allegro con spirito [3:46] V. Can-can - Animatissimo [3:19])
Benedetto Lupo (piano)
Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana/Massimo de Bernart
rec. July 1991, Palermo
ARTS 47596-2 [49:15]

I really enjoyed this disk and, despite the short playing time, any disk which brings Rota’s concert music before a larger public is a good thing.

Whenever Nino Rota’s name is mentioned it’s almost always in connection with his music for film. Seldom is mention made of his concert music – and there’s a lot of it: three symphonies, concertos for harp, bassoon, trombone, two for cello, three for piano, five ballets, ten operas and much chamber music.
Rota was born into a musical family in Milan, studied at the Conservatory there with Pizzetti, moved to the USA, received a scholarship to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he studied composition with Rosario Scalero - who also taught Samuel Barber at about the same time - and on his return to Milan he wrote a thesis on the renaissance composer, Gioeffo Zarlino.
He started writing for the cinema in the 1930s, almost on his return from America, and he continued his association with film until his death, his most fruitful partnership being with director Federico Fellini, who said. “The most precious collaborator I have ever had, I say it straightaway and don't even have to hesitate, was Nino Rota - between us, immediately, a complete, total, harmony ... He had a geometric imagination, a musical approach worthy of celestial spheres. He thus had no need to see images from my movies. When I asked him about the melodies he had in mind to comment one sequence or another, I clearly realized he was not concerned with images at all. His world was inner, inside himself, and reality had no way to enter it”.
Rota made no distinction between his music for film and his concert works – indeed, his 1966 ballet La Strada derives from his 1954 score for the film of the same name – and three movements of the Sinfonia sopra una Canzone d’Amore (Symphony on a love song) were used in two of his most successful films – The Glass Mountain (Henry Cass – 1948) and Il Gattopardo [The Leopard] (Visconti – 1963). The Sinfonia was written in 1947, but only in short piano score, it wasn’t orchestrated until 1972. This is a delightful work, tuneful, graceful, light and breezy, much in the manner of Haydn, with a delicious slow movement and a riotous finale. It is superbly laid out for a smallish orchestra including a dash of percussion.
The booklet calls the Concerto Soirée “…one of the most demanding pieces of piano literature of [the 20th century]” but it’s impossible to understand why, this must surely be a mistranslation. I wonder if what is meant is not hard or severe, but rather undemanding, as in easygoing. Like the Sinfonia it is light and tuneful with a fine sense of fun and a delightful slow movement, and also like the Sinfonia, parts of the Concerto were used elsewhere – the melancholy theme from the Romanza was used in the ballet La Strada, and the finale’s opening idea appears in the descent to the Turkish baths in Fellini’s Otto e mezzo [] (1963).
The performances are suitably classical, light and airy, allowing the music to flow freely, not pointing the jokes, just letting them happen, then passing on, allowing us to enjoy a joke slipped into the delightful conversation. The recording is clear and ever so slightly dated but that need not worry you. The booklet notes are rather quaint, due, I imagine, to a less than perfect translation.
Chandos has done sterling service by Rota, recording six CDs of his music, including a performance of the Sinfonia sopra una Canzone d’Amore by the Orchestra Sinfonica del Teatro Massimo, conducted by Marzio Conti (coupled with the Ballet Suite, La Strada, and Waltzes from Il Gattopardo – Chandos CHAN 10090). It’s a good performance, better recorded than the Arts disk (and more generous in playing time) but lacking the light touch and sense of fun – it is all too serious.
I really enjoyed this disk and, despite the short playing time, any disk which brings Rota’s concert music before a larger public is a good thing.
Bob Briggs


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