Formerly issued on Marco Polo 8.225156, this CD provides a pleasant
sampler of the orchestral music of one of the minor, but interesting,
figures in Italian music of the first half of the twentieth century.
Pilati – whose life was cut short by illness – achieved a fair
degree of success in his lifetime, as composer, critic and teacher.
Born in Naples he studied music there with Antonio Savasta and
his early efforts at composition were encouraged by Francesco
Cilea. In 1925 he moved to Milan, where he worked as a music critic,
as an arranger of vocal scores for Casa Ricordi and as a teacher
- Gianandrea Gavazzeni was amongst his pupils. Gradually his work
as a composer attracted more and more interest – of the works
on this CD the premiere of the Concerto for Orchestra was conducted
(in Venice) by Mitropoulos and a later performance in Naples was
conducted by Felix Weingartner; the first performance of the Three
Pieces (Tre Pezzi) was given in Naples, conducted by Franco Capuana.
From 1930 until his illness overtook him he held professorial
positions in Naples and Palermo. Since his death, however, his
star has waned somewhat. He doesn’t even merit a mention, for
example, in the 2002 Dizionario della Musica Classica Italiana,
edited by Marc Vignal (and revised by Leoncarlo Settimelli), published
in Rome by Gremese Editore. I do remember once hearing a performance
of an impressive piano quintet - at least it sounded impressive
on a single hearing - on Italian radio, but one doesn’t get many
chances to hear his music.
I think it is wrong
to give way to the temptation to present Pilati in terms of
the romantic archetype of the genius who died young. The Swiss
conductor Adriano talks of him in rather those terms in the
booklet note to this CD. But that, I think, is to inflate Pilati
and his music in ways which may actually do him a disservice
by leading to false expectations. On the evidence of these orchestral
works, Pilati was a very competent, mature composer, whose work
is marked by high craftsmanship and by an eclectic openness
to influences – but not by the kind of individuality and originality
one might reasonably think to be amongst the hallmarks of genius.
The Concerto for
Orchestra is an attractive work, essentially neoclassical and
in that modern tradition of the revived concerto grosso.
The orchestral writing is often quite lush; the central adagio
is an attractive piece of neoclassical revivalism and the closing
movement (‘Rondo alla tirolese: Allegro pesante e ben ritmato’)
draws on what sound like genuine folk melodies to good effect.
The three movements are linked by the reiteration and subtle
transformation of common material. While this Concerto doesn’t
strike me as a neglected masterpiece, it would certainly reward
concert performance nowadays. The Three Pieces are particularly
attractive, and the performance here is elegant and persuasively
dance-like, the three pieces being, respectively, a minuetto,
a habanera and a furlana. The example and influence
of Ravel is not hard to detect here, but the results are pleasant
even if not especially innovative or individual. The one work
I found rather disappointing was the Suite for Strings and Piano.
It may be relevant to note that it is the earliest work here;
the two central movements – again based on dances (a sarabanda
and another minuetto) – are perhaps the most pleasing
parts of a rather slight and scrappy work. The two outer movements,
though not labelled as such, turn out to be a pavane
and a toccata. The CD closes with a work which is ‘slight’
in another sense – a brief and unpretentious Cradle Song, completed
only three weeks before Pilati’s death. It is a beautiful miniature,
a piece of melancholy refinement, dignified and yet full of
sentiment. It is surely not too fanciful to hear in it the composer’s
knowledge of his own approaching death, so that it speaks of
more than one kind of ‘sleep’ and is, as it were, as much a
‘Grave Song’ as it is a Cradle Song - one friend to whom I played
it ‘blind’ wondered, not unreasonably, if it wasn’t a piece
by Fauré that he had never heard before. Anyone who has a taste
for the tonal music of this period will surely be impressed
by this brief piece, and will just as surely find things of
interest - if not of any startling individuality - elsewhere
on the disc.