MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS
Download: Classicsonline


Gian Francesco MALIPIERO (1883-1973) The Symphonies – Volume 1
Sinfonia del mare (1906) [23:41]
Symphony No. 3 “delle campane” (1944-45) [23:50]
Symphony No. 4 “in memoriam” (1946) [24:58]
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Antonio de Almeida
rec. Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, May-June 1993. DDD
NAXOS 8.570878 [72:29]


Experience Classicsonline

Firstly, I guess that the name and the music of Gian Francesco Malipiero are little known in the general run of classical music appreciation - especially in the United Kingdom and the USA. Secondly, based on this first volume of Symphonies, I believe that listeners will be pleasantly surprised at what appears to be a great symphonic cycle that is just waiting to be (re)discovered. It seems ironic that such music as this can have remained in relative obscurity for so many years. I understand that this series was released on the Marco Polo label some 15 years ago – but I imagine that many people, me included, will have missed them first time around.

A few words about Malipiero’s career will not go amiss. He was born in Venice in 1883 to a musical family; his grandfather was the opera composer Francesco Malipiero. However, family problems prevented the young Gian from having a consistent musical education. After a period in the Vienna Conservatoire he had some composition lessons with Marco Enrico Bossi. Unfortunately he was forced to spend time studying on his own. Much of this self-study involved perusal of the scores of Monteverdi and Frescobaldi. This deep understanding of this these (then) largely forgotten works was to lead the composer to a great interest in historical Italian music- it was an interest that was to yield great fruit in later years. Malipiero attended a number of lectures by Max Bruch in Berlin between 1910 and 1911 and was later to come under the spell of Debussy, Stravinsky and Casella. Interestingly he was largely ambivalent about the Austro-Germanic tradition: his definition of ‘symphony’ was markedly different to that of Mahler, Bruckner and other post-romantic composers.

One anecdote about the composer’s younger days repays telling. In 1913 he won four composition prizes at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome by the rather dubious precedent of submitting five different works under five different names.

It is difficult to place Malipiero in context as his music is not generally known to a British audience. But for the record, Malipiero himself suggested that his Pause del Silenzio for the orchestra (1917), his Rispetti e Strambotti for chamber ensemble, (1920) and L'Orfeide for the stage (1918, 1922) are amongst his best works. Few would doubt that the symphonies are his crowning achievements. But other contenders for the palm are the Fourth String Quartet (1934) - he wrote eight - his chamber opera Sette canzoni (1920) and the First Violin Concerto (1932). All these works await rediscovery.

In addition to his work as a composer, Malipiero was to devote much time to teaching at the Venice Liceo Musicale and the Parma Conservatory. One of his star students was Luigi Nono. He wrote a number of books including studies of Stravinsky and Vivaldi. Yet perhaps the greatest debt that musicians and listeners owe to Malipiero is his work as an editor. He produced a complete edition of Monteverdi’s compositions and latterly edited many of Vivaldi’s concertos. Additionally he produced performing editions of music by Galuppi, Tartini and Stradella.

It is very difficult to describe Malipiero’s music. For one thing it is hard to relate their sound-world to that of other composers. One is reminded of the late Elvis Presley when asked who he sang like. His immortal reply was “I don’t sing like no-one”. And the same can be said of Malipiero. Certainly there are hints of Stravinsky and Debussy in many passages. But when one starts hearing Charles Ives, Edward Elgar and Ottorino Respighi it is perhaps time to give up and allow the man to speak for himself.

Unfortunately, most scholars declare that Malipiero’s music is quite uneven in its quality. Woodhouse, in the sleeve-notes, declares that “all [his] works deserve far more attention than they nowadays usually receive … despite the undeniable, disconcerting unevenness of his huge output”. But any artist has an inalienable right to be understood by his best works. Malipiero is generally regarded as a great composer when judged by these standards. Dallapiccola once stated that Malipiero was “the most important musical personality that Italy had since the death of Verdi”.

He was to destroy much of his music written before 1914; however the Sinfonia del mare (1906) is one that has survived that cull. It is a very good place to begin an exploration of his music. This work is usually regarded as more ‘symphonic poem’ than a ‘classic’ symphony. This is the composer’s Sea Symphony – although it is a far cry from that of Vaughan Williams! Even a superficial hearing will suggest Debussy’s La Mer. However it is unlikely that the Malipiero could have heard that piece when he wrote the present piece only a few months after the premiere of the Frenchman’s great work. Fundamentally, this ‘Sinfonia’ is a musical representation of the changes and chances and moods of the Adriatic as seen (probably) from the Lagoon. It is a lovely work that will present few problems to listeners.

The Third Symphony was composed in 1944-45. Malipiero has written about this work that it was “connected to a terrible date, 8 September 1943 when the bells of St Mark’s Cathedral did not ring for peace but to announce new torments, new suffering.” The reason for this, the composer said, was that “the Germans had invaded Italy. I heard the sound of their steps, of their heavy boots announcing death and martyrdom. The bells cancelled all that: they created a special state of mind. Here is my Third Symphony written at one of the most terrible times.” Malipiero closes his thoughts on this work by asking, “Have you ever heard, from the lagoons, Venice all vibrating with bells? She becomes a huge musical instrument.”.

The work is in four movements with the ‘scherzo’ placed after the slow movement. From the first bar to the last the listener is aware of the ringing of bells – either explicitly or implicitly; it is the work’s leitmotiv. Listen out for some delicious sonorities in the slow movement: the composer makes excellent use of the piano, creating a kind of gamelan-like soundscape. But it is the rather obtuse ‘scherzo’ that stole the show for me in this piece. Novel use of instruments and a lopsided formal construction do nothing to lessen the fact that this is a minor masterpiece of orchestral writing.

I have listened, carefully to this Symphony twice. On the one hand it is a work that can be appreciated on a one-off hearing, yet I believe that this is music that only reveals its delights and depths with application and repeated hearing which may not be realistic to expect from the majority of listeners. There is great beauty in these pages, as well contemplative moments and even intimations of darkness. Yet, for all that, this is an optimistic work.

The Fourth Symphony is subtitled ‘in memoriam’. It is dedicated to Natalie Koussevitzky, the wife of the great conductor. As an aside Peter Grimes was also dedicated to this lady, as were a number of other compositions.

The first movement is a touch ‘eccentric’ and I guess that it is a little imbalanced. There is a lot of energy here, and much of the music seems a little ‘rough cut.’ Waterhouse is right when he states that ‘a two bar refrain for trombones, tuba and bassoon interposes itself three times “into the music’s flow like some rough and knobbly obstacle”. However the slow movement is perfect. It is the heart of the work and is ‘elegiac’ in mood. This is not easy music to listen to. Sometimes there is a harshness that may seem alien to music designed to be ‘in memory’ of a friend.

The ‘scherzo’ is hardly as impressive as that of the Third Symphony, although it is a relief after the intensity of the slow movement. There is much energy here and the dissonance suggests vitality rather than violence. The last movement is an interesting set of variations on a theme ‘salvaged from Malipiero’s early, repudiated one-act opera Canossa (1911-12). It is the most accomplished part of this Symphony. My first reaction is that it lacks unity, and that for an elegiac work it is devoid of warmth. It is only in the last pages that I sense hope and optimism. But I guess that this was the composer’s intention.

Fundamentally, this is a great CD. I know that I missed out on this music the first time around – and I regret this. These are great, if somewhat idiosyncratic works that well deserve attention and study. I am not an authority on Italian music from any century – but I guess that symphonic cycles of the magnitude of Gian Francesco Malipiero’s are few and far between. And to discover a series of works that are great music, inspiring, beautiful and thoroughly enjoyable is a great thing. I hope that Naxos quickly releases the remaining symphonies and other orchestral works as soon as possible.

I should add that the playing by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and their conductor Antonio de Almeida is stimulating. To my mind, they are great advocates of Malipiero’s music. The programme notes by John C.G. Waterhouse are informative, well written and essential reading. Bear in mind that there is little other information to assist listeners.

John France



Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing




Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.