You like Ghedini, I like Pizzini, you like Giorgio Federico, I
like Carlo Alberto, Ghedini, Pizzini…well, you know the rest.
Naxos is immersed in a modern Italian composer crusade taking
in recordings made in the 1950s on a ‘composer conducts’ basis.
And on the basis of this one I’m inclined to shout encore.
was a Turin-born late starter, mainly because poverty stifled
his compositional aspirations in his twenties. Despite devoted
work more often than not he played the piano – he was a fine
pianist – and conducted; his compositional success came much
later in 1927 when Litanie alla Vergine was premiered
and caused a splash. Only then did he emerge as probably the
most important Italian composer of his time – born as he was
in 1892, thus a decade or so after Casella, Malipiero, Pizzetti
and Respighi. Those born a decade after him included Dallapiccola
and Petrassi. Incidentally Ghedini was a fine teacher and one
of his pupils was Berio.
works included in this disc were made in Naples on 28 March
1952, with the Orchestra Alessandro Scarlatti di Napoli directed
by the composer. They’re all fascinating. L’Olmeneta
(The Elm Grove) is that rare thing, a concerto for orchestra
and two concertante cellos. The opening is tense, ruminative
and the cellos entwine with honeysuckle embrace that is at once
compelling and almost anti-virtuosic. In the central movement
they joust with a pair of horns whilst the slow movement is
highly expressive, remote and atmospheric. The cellistic line
is warm, the ethos Mahlerian, albeit with a certain static,
restive, reserved element. The last movement takes us back to
our beginning, a quasi-cyclic component, shot through with increasingly
fugitive strangeness. What a compelling, slightly weird work
course we must have Litanie alla Vergine, the composition
that marked his delayed coming of age. At only ten minutes in
length it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and certainly not in
this warmly lyric, radiantly post-Respighian performance – one
that coalesces economy and simplicity of means with affirmative
spirit and post-war optimism (in both compositional and recording
senses). The final work consists of the only recorded extracts
from the Musical Offering after Johann Sebastian Bach which
he wrote in 1946. He drew on his orchestral palette, his conductor’s
ear and an innate respect for Bach to produce a work of real
strength. In general the orchestration is sparing, with power
reserved for particular moments. He opens the Thema on
two pianos and successively varies instrumental groupings and
colouration with masterly, painterly control, with fresco aptness.
By the time we reach the Canones diversi [IV – track
12] we find ourselves immersed in a powerful sense of motion
and dynamic contrapuntalism. There are elsewhere vivid conjunctions
of voicings – try the Canon a 2 [track 14] – and a real
sense of uneasy tension in the Animato [track 15]. The
sound swells and engorges in the Canon a 4 and by the
concluding Ricercare a 6 the full torrent of the orchestra
is incrementally unleashed, the work ending in grandiose crypto-Stokowskian
from Colosseum LPs the restorations, from material originally
recorded by Italian radio, sound pretty good. The music spans
Ghedini’s compositional life in a way he clearly found representative.
There’s something here for every taste – from the more academic
but still exciting Bach, to the joyful Litanie and the
puzzlingly hypnotic L’Olmeneta.