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Nino ROTA (1911-1979)
Symphony No. 1 in G major (1935-39) [30:36]
Symphony No. 2 (“Anni di Pellegrinaggio - Tarantina”) in F major (1937-39) [31:21]
Filarmonica ’900 del Teatro Regio di Torino/Marzio Conti
rec. Teatro Regio, Turin, Italy; 12-13 November 2005 (No. 1) 6-7 May 2006 (No. 2)
CHANDOS CHAN10546 [61:57]
Experience Classicsonline

Rota was one of the great film-score composers, writing music for more than 150 movies, most famously Fellini’s and Coppola’s The Godfather. His compositions for the concert hall are equally numerous, but much less appreciated. On the basis of this recording, that is our loss.

These two works predate his cinema output, and give some broad hints as to why he was so successful and so much in demand by directors and producers. If you like your twentieth century symphony to be spiky and dissonant, look elsewhere. However, if your taste runs to Vaughan Williams, Copland, Barber, Respighi and Sibelius, you have a real treat on your hands. I list the first three of those composers deliberately as he mixed with those greats during his years studying in the United States with Fritz Reiner and his countryman, Toscanini. In the latter’s New York apartment, Rota spent much time with Vaughan Williams. As I read this in the sleeve-notes, the appeal of this music began to make sense.

Both symphonies are identified in the notes as having a descriptive landscape element to them. Indeed the Second has a title which translates to “Age of Pilgrimage - Tarantina”, referring to the town of Taranto, in the Puglia region of southern Italy, where Rota moved from Rome. I don’t profess to be able make a judgement on this, not having been to southern Italy, but there is a sunny and optimistic character to much of both works that is definitely Italian.

The First Symphony is described as neo-classical, but that undersells its passion. It begins with an Allegro con moto taken relatively slowly by Conti, introduced by a beautiful pastoral theme in the winds, before a noble, almost Elgarian brass fanfare. The second movement Andante is Sibelius transplanted to Italy - melancholic, but with an underlying optimism. It is dominated by sombre brass and strings, with the winds providing a contrast in mood. It is breathtakingly beautiful music. The third movement Allegro vivace - a scherzo in all but name - is all dance rhythms, chirpy winds and boisterous brass. The final movement Largo maestoso - an unusual tempo for a closing movement - begins in sadness and introspection with most VWish strings, and finishes in an uplifting and glorious climax.

The Second begins in similar pastoral fashion to the First, but instead of the sweeping strings that carry its first movement, there is a tender song in the woodwind. The second movement begins very jauntily: the notes describe it as a tarantella. I don’t really agree: it is more restrained than that and indeed poetic at times. The opening of the third movement brings the Tallis Fantasia to mind, though there is the added element of sombre brass. A tentative flute melody leads us out of the gloom, and the strings and brass provide some stirring climaxes before the sense of sadness and resignation returns. By complete contrast, the finale is all lightness and humour - Prokofiev’s First Symphony seems to be echoed.

I had intended to describe these two symphonies as the best “new” music I have heard this year, where “new” meant “new to me”, but to my surprise, I discovered I already had another recording of both works - the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ole Kristian Ruud (BIS CD970). That I had completely forgotten it is, I guess, the inevitable consequence of a large collection - and yes, I realise that it might also be the result of getting older! The Chandos version has better sound, and subtly better performances - a little more dynamic perhaps.

These two symphonies are the best non-mainstream works I have heard in a long while and if this isn’t my Record of the Year, I look forward to hearing what is!

David J Barker


















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