Giuseppe MARTUCCI (1856-1909)
La Canzone dei Ricordi (1886) [31:19]
Notturno, Op. 70 No. 1 (1888) [7:42]
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Il Tramonto (1918) [16:33]
Carol Madalin (mezzo)
English Chamber Orchestra/Alfredo Bonavera
rec. 13-14 November 1987, Rosalyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead, London
Giuseppe Martucci was a contemporary of Puccini, born two years before that master. In an age when opera dominated the Italian musical consciousness, Martucci concentrated his attention on instrumental and orchestral music, writing notable piano concertos and symphonies. The major work included here comes the closest to an opera among any of his compositions. La Canzone dei Ricordi (The Song of Remembrance) for mezzo-soprano and orchestra is a full thirty minutes in duration, setting poems by Rocco Pagliera with lush Wagnerian harmonic textures, though employing an orchestra of fairly modest proportions. As such it lays claim to a position as the first Italian song-cycle with orchestra.
Make no mistake, this is a fine performance of a fine composition, reminding us that though Martucci is not well known he deserves urgently to be heard. Each of these seven songs offers its own particular personality to the whole experience, in music at once expressively sincere and beautifully organised, while orchestrated with much subtlety besides. As befits a work for orchestra and female soloist, the tone is predominantly lyrical, and at times there is a memorable melodic appeal. The effect of the whole is certainly more than the sum of the parts, so that when the climax arrives in the sixth song it forms a passionate outburst. These strengths are confirmed in this compelling performance, which is beautifully recorded. Carol Madalin is a warm-toned soloist whose vocal shadings and dynamic control are admirable. Although the poetry may not be of the highest order, the music lends it a new and fulfilling identity. The final song reworks material from the first, thus providing a musical unity.
The conductor, Alfredo Bonavera, is wholly in sympathy with Martucci’s style and he also provides the excellent and perceptive insert notes, a necessary and helpful bonus to this well-produced disc. There have been other recordings besides this one, which was first issued some twenty years ago. Among these, there is an equally splendid version featuring the Swizz mezzo Brigitte Balleys, with Jésus López-Cobos and the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra (Claves 50-9807), though the documentation comes second to that of the Helios reissue.
In Italy Martucci’s Notturno has been one of the pieces that keeps his name before the public. His mastery of the orchestra is again assured, his expressive sensitivity most rewarding. The English Chamber Orchestra plays magnificently under Bonavera’s direction, making the music sound rather like the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. It is not derivative, having been written some years previously. The music lasts some eight minutes, and the climax that arrives around the five-minute mark has a really powerful intensity.
It makes sense to couple Martucci’s song-cycle with another by Respighi, since the younger composer was his pupil and this is reflected in his musical style. Subtitled ‘lyrical poem for mezzo-soprano and string quartet or orchestra’, Il Tramonto (The Sunset) is a setting of Shelley's poem The Sunset in an Italian translation. Lasting only fifteen minutes, this little masterpiece is a tautly constructed miniature drama, full of pathos. It tells of two young lovers who spend a single night together. Then in the morning the girl awakes to find the youth dead at her side, and spends the remainder of her life grieving silently for her lost love. The musical images of sunset, and the sense of dignified sadness, are mirrored in the chromatic harmony, which is as lush and expressive as anything found in Strauss, of whom Respighi was a great admirer. The closing moments are particularly effective, as the restless music at last achieves serenity at the word 'Peace'. Il Tramonto appears also on the Balleys and López-Cobos disc, and in both their performance and this one by Madalin and Bonavera, the musical features are most effectively captured. Perhaps the Hyperion Helios recording is slightly more atmospherically recorded, but either will give much satisfaction.
Make no mistake, these are fine performances of fine music, reminding us that though Martucci is not well known he urgently deserves to be heard. The Respighi coupling is both appropriate and rewarding in its own right.

Terry Barfoot
Make no mistake, these are fine performances of fine music that urgently deserves to be heard. … see Full Review