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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



 REVIEW

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Giuseppe MARTUCCI (1856-1909)
Symphony No.1 in D minor Op.75 (1895) [40:10]
Giga Op.61, No.3 (1883) [4:09]
Canzonetta Op.65, No.2 (1884) [3:30]
Andante Op.69, No.2 (1888) [12:22]*
Notturno Op.70, No.1 (1891) [9:29]
Andrea Noferini (cello)*
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma/Francesco La Vecchia
rec. 16 October 2007, and March and April 2008, Auditorium Conciliazione-Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma Studios.
NAXOS 8.570929 [69:38]

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Giuseppe MARTUCCI (1856-1909)
Symphony No.2 in F major Op.81 (1904) [45:02]
Theme and variations Op.58 (1882 arr.1905) [14:25]*
Gavotta Op.55, No.2 (1884) [4:13]
Tarantella Op.44, No.6 (1880) [6:05]
Lya De Barberiis (piano)*
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma/Francesco La Vecchia
rec. 16 October 2007, and March and April 2008, Auditorium Conciliazione-Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma Studios.
NAXOS 8.570930 [69:44]
Experience Classicsonline





In a neatly attractive collection, Giuseppe Martucci's orchestral music is now represented by four CDs from Naxos, these of the two symphonies, and another two which cover the two piano concertos - a nice way to mark yet another composer's 2009 centenary, although these discs are in for the long haul and not promoted as such. All of these discs are filled with attractive bonuses, and the extra pieces on the two disc reviewed here are almost all arrangements of piano pieces. Martucci's career began as a pianist and composer, although he was later highly influential as a conductor, numbering the Italian première of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde in 1888 among his achievements. Martucci's championing of Wagner is one of the clues to his personality as a symphonic composer, although the towering influence of Brahms is the most immediately apparent when encountering these pieces for the first time. Further stylistic influences include Schumann and Tchaikovsky, but it would be unfair to sum up either of these symphonies merely in terms of a second-hand musical language. With no great symphonic tradition in Italy it is hardly surprising that a composer of this period would look to northern Europe for examples, and it is more of a credit than a criticism that Martucci managed to create such powerful pieces out of essentially foreign ingredients. Toscanini himself was a champion of Martucci, often conducting both symphonies and the B-flat minor piano concerto, and I can indeed imagine the fiery maestro responding with verve to Martucci's direct and succulently romantic musical language.

Martucci spent six years writing his Symphony No.1, and the work's scale and seriousness of ambition is clear from the outset. The first movement is dominated by a forceful and energetic opening theme which contrasts widely with the more contemplative nature of the second theme - and the movement ends in an atmosphere of tranquillity. Thus introduced, the second movement opens with a sweetly nostalgic cello solo over a restrained orchestral accompaniment. This movement's slow development and subtly moulded forms is taken over by a more playful Allegretto third movement whose measured pace is given a lighter orchestration in the opening. This develops into material of a stronger, more heroic character, but the general mood is one of geniality. The final movement opens with a flash of thunder and some moody development, before the truly blazing main theme breaks through - resolute and heroic, melody rising triumphantly against a descending bass.

The shorter works on this first disc are all arrangements, but work extremely well as orchestral pieces. The Giga is a light bonbon, with playful strings and punctuating winds and brass. The Canzonetta is more reflective, opening with low Tchaikovskian clarinets for the opening theme, tripping on and alternating with a contrasting second theme in the strings.
The Andante Op.69 no.2 is arranged from one of Martucci's later chamber pieces for cello and piano, and the relation between soloist and orchestra provides a welcome contrast from purely orchestral textures. Andrea Noferini's playing wears its heart a little too much on its sleeve for my liking, laying on a permanent air of misery like Droopy the Dog. This is an elegiac piece however, and builds a fine arching structure every bit as powerful as something by Bruch or Elgar - if you can overlook the somewhat misplaced sounding pizzicati just before the halfway mark. Intonation is also an issue in some places in the performance of this piece. The most significant of these extra works is the gorgeous Notturno Op.70 No.1, whose ‘sustained mood of rapt introspection' has something of the Sigfried Idyll about it, and is also somewhat reminiscent of Mahler's Adagietto from the 5th Symphony.

Martucci's Symphony No.2 took another significant chunk of the composer's career, seeing a gestation period of about 5 years before completion. Again, the avuncular figure of Brahms gazes down, sprinkling influential dust on many aspects of upon this piece, but again the forceful nature of the music immediately dismisses any ideas one might have of this being in any way a pale imitation. Indeed, there are some dissonances in the first movement which seem to anticipate Sibelius, and while the horns and strings enjoy much of that rich German romantic texture, there are some little woodwind figures which seem to leap straight out of something altogether more Czechoslovakian. There are more fingerprints from elsewhere, with the string ostinati and other aspects of the first movement having a distinctly Brucknerian quality. A short horn solo introduces the second movement Scherzo, which as the title would lead one to expect has a lighter quality, full of quirky running string figures and lively commentary from the winds. The emotional core of the symphony is in the eloquently expressive Adagio, ma non troppo, which takes only a minute to build from a low thematic statement to the peak of its first musical paragraph. This is almost a thirteen minute musical landscape however, and Martucci throws in plenty of contrast, from a low string sequence which has a similar mood to Richard Strauss's Metamorphosen, to an extended build-up and a massive climax with strings and blazing brass at full tilt, ending with another rather magical soft and restrained final section and coda. The suspicion that British composers may have had their influence on Martucci - supported by his conducting of Stanford's Irish Symphony and others - is to my ears audible in the opening of the final Allegro, which is full of quirky bristling moustaches and jaunty top hats. This is confident symphonic writing, with lively counterpoint and plenty of virtuoso orchestrational strutting. There is one remarkable moment in which everything seems to collapse, out of which the themes re-emerge ever more triumphantly. This is all great fun, but fits hand in glove with the tenor of the rest of the symphony, providing a release filled with noble sentiments and sparkling dexterity from all involved.

Moving on to the ‘fillers', the Tema con variazioni is Martucci's only other work for piano and orchestra aside from the two piano concertos, and even then it is an arrangement, originally for piano solo - subsequently revised more than once and including a version for two pianos. The theme itself is not particularly memorable nor are the variations equally distinguished, with plenty of facile ‘plink-plink' pianism going on in some. There are however some fascinating moments in this piece, with plenty of dialogue between soloist and orchestra and some intriguing orchestral textures. Martucci goes for the ‘big tune' in the Adagio variation, but this ends up sounding more like a parody than a major achievement. Lya De Barberiis' playing is not helped by a rather clangy treble in the instrument used, but is anyway competent rather than inspirational. The Gavotta is another transcription from a solo piano piece, having plenty of pastoral offbeat rhythmic charm rather than a direct dance character. More exciting is the final track, the Tarantella which, orchestrated in 1908 was Martucci's last transcription. ‘Rowdiness, verging on aggression' is how Richard Whitehouse describes it, and there is indeed plenty of wildness in the ride - for players and listener alike.

If you are looking for these two symphonies on one disc, then there is an attractive coupling to be had from the BIS label, although this review refers to a pair of releases from ASV which would still seem to be available and apparently preferable in terms of performance.

These new recordings from Naxos are both of a very high standard in any context, and made even more attractive by being at budget price. There are one or two moments where internal intonation might have been a trifle more accurate, in the more dense passages and cello lines of the finale to the Symphony No.1 for instance, but the overriding impression is that of stylish professionalism in the entirety of the orchestral sound, as well as in numerous lovely orchestral solos throughout both discs. The soloists in the shorter pieces are less fun, but all of the works receive fine enough performances for repeated listening. The acoustic of the Auditorium Conciliazione is big and resonant, but there is no loss of detail in the recording, and the richly relaxed spread of instruments is on to which you can listen for a long time with no sense of fatigue. Good booklet note from Richard Whitehouse top off another set of remarkably fine recordings from the Naxos stable, so, snap up these at two for the price of probably-less-than-one and rejuvenate your romantic orchestral section with resounding resonances.

Dominy Clements



Note: The four ASV/D'Avalos CDs of the Martucci symphonies and piano concertos have been reissued in a 4 CD Brilliant Classics all-Martucci box. It's to be had at super-budget price on Brilliant 93439. Ed. 

see also review of symphony 1 by Ian Lace

 


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