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Vittorio GIANNINI (1903-1966)
Piano Concerto (1934) [41:12]
Symphony No. 4 (1959) [23:22]
Gabriela Imreh (piano)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Spalding
rec. The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, June 2007  
NAXOS 8.559352 [64:34]

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Vittorio GIANNINI (1903-1966)
Dedication Overture (1965) [7:49]
Fantasia (1963) [6:40]
Praeludium and Allegro (1958) [7:21]
Symphony No. 3 (1958) [23:17]
8 Variations and Fugue (1965) [14:37]
University of Houston Wind Ensemble/Tom Bennett
rec. Moores School of Music, University of Houston, 5-7 March 2004
NAXOS 8.570130 [59:43]

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Vittorio GIANNINI (1903-1966)
Psalm 130 (1963) [17:39]
John CARBON (b. 1951)
Endangered Species (1990s) [15:51]
William Thomas McKINLEY (b.1934)
Passacaglia: Theme, Variations and Finale (1990s) [13:25]
Richard Fredrickson (double-bass)
Slovak Radio Orchestra/Kirk Trevor
no recording details given.
MMC RECORDINGS MMC2138 [46:55]
Experience Classicsonline

In the USA in the 1950s and 1960s while academia signed up to dissonance and audience alienation, the wind-bands held true to melody and sometimes to heroic values. Giannini’s temperament and creative inclination  served this movement well.
 
Taking the windband CD first, the Dedication Overture romps through Tchaikovskian evocation, Hansonian grandeur and pre-echoes of the great John Williams cinema scores. Two years before that came his tragic Fantasia which demands a grown-up emotionalism. It is a splendid work in which Giannini turns to the darker realms and makes of them a Hansonian pilgrimage. The Praeludium and Allegro is at first broodingly intense and then whips and snaps in a Waltonian blaze. The final pages are torridly romantic - a tormented emotional climax. The Third Symphony is in four movements. It has the good heart and rejuvenating qualities of Randall Thompson's Second Symphony. The second movement is plaintive and outdoors in tone. A bubblingly Respighian Allegretto prepares the way for a joyful and largely unclouded finale. By contrast the Variations and Fugue is sombre and heavy with the tense and brooding atmosphere of the Praeludium and Allegro. It is however more obliquely expressed - perhaps picking up on a tinge from the dissonant hegemony. But it is only a tinge - no darker say than any part of Hanson's Sixth Symphony.
 
The Houston band give good sharp and soulful performances but I can imagine more brilliance from a band on the sort of crackerjack form to be found from the Eastman Wind Ensemble in its glory days with Frederick Fennell.
 
In the orchestral music Giannini plunges with no sense of reserve into romantic waters. That sense of immersive adventure is asserted immediately in his 1934 Piano Concerto. This is a work of epic mien and proportions. The style is not difficult to pin down: Giannini was completely in his element with the grandeur and nostalgia of Rachmaninov. This is music that is stirring, evidently sincere and poetic. Chopin might however have been at Giannini's shoulder in the peaceful Adagio but this stillness is needed after the turbulence and torment of the first movement. The finale resumes the fray but with a closer engagement with Russian models such as the Scriabin and Arensky piano concertos. A fine concerto then - with the grandest emotional span.
 
Rachmaninov epigones were not uncommon in the 1930s and perhaps this work may convey some of the sense of romantic confidence radiated by the Russian’s English disciple Roger Sacheverell Coke. We must wait and see.
 
Giannini wrote seven symphonies. One of these days we will surely have a boxed set. As it is we must take our acquaintance when we can get it. Here is the first recording of the Fourth Symphony - a work in three movements and slightly more than half the length of the Concerto. It belongs comfortably and unblushingly in the company of the neo-romantic symphonies of Creston (2 and 3), Barber (1) and Nicholas Flagello (1). Its Sostenuto e Calmo central movement is glorious, with burnished brass and sheeny lavish string-writing up there with the slow movement of the Rachmaninov Second  Symphony. If the finale misses, by a shade, the consistency and concentration of the Barber First and Hanson's Second it nevertheless projects a sense of implacably constructed symphonic roundedness.
 
The notes for both the Naxos discs are by Walter Simmons who has taken to himself the task of documenting the forgotten romantics of America's 20th century. He has proved more than equal to the task: as eloquent in information as he is effective in advocacy.
 
The MMC disc sets out three works for double-bass and orchestra - none claiming to be a concerto. All are rooted in the exigent romantic stream of the twentieth and twenty first centuries.
 
Such is the vibrancy of the Giannini Psalm 130 one wishes it ran for 38 minutes rather than a single movement of just short of eighteen minutes. Right from the start he unequivocally declares his credentials which are very much those of Barber and Bloch - Schelomo being the instantly obvious parallel. The Barber connection is with works such as the three Essays, the First Symphony and the Prelude to a scene from Shelley rather than the concertos. You may also find linkages with one of Giannini's pupils.  the wonderful Nicolas Flagello and his hyper-romantic First Symphony blessedly recorded on Naxos.
 
Richard Fredrickson's double-bass fully embraces the instrument's singing and virtuoso celloistic role. The music and Fredrickson's playing are fully engaged in the romantic tempest that is this cauldron of the emotions. Frankly this is a wonderful piece with which I have been deeply impressed since first hearing a tape of what I take to be the 1963 premiere in which the soloists was Fredrickson's teacher Gary Karr.
 
There is a tendency to treat the double-bass as a bit of a buffoon - the provider of ponderous bass ostinati and the sort of propulsive grunt you get at the start of Bax's Sixth Symphony. Here Giannini writes a piece that does for the Double-Bass what Vaughan Williams did for the Tuba when he wrote his Tuba Concerto. The instrument is treated as a singer and eloquent adventurer in its own right; just as it should be. This is no shallow display piece so no need to fear the sort of travesty concertos created by Grutzmacher out of Boccherini.
 
Giannini accords the instrument a full range voice in its own right. The music seems to speak from Giannini's deepest reserves prompting thoughts not  only of Barber but also of Korngold and the rather benighted Bax Cello Concerto. Some of the more scathing moments sound a little like Rawsthorne (Symphonic Studies) towards the end for the last five minutes. Giannini has the double-bass enjoying the orator's limelight and proclaiming the gospel of twentieth century angst and exaltation.
 
I was very pleased to see Walter Simmons’ outstanding note. It combines high-minded advocacy with readable scholarship for Giannini. Do get his book “Voices in the wilderness” - (Scarecrow Press, 2004).
 
John Carbon's Endangered Species for double-bass and orchestra was written in the last decade. It deploys lyricism and recognises that the instrument is every bit as deserving of the centre-stage as the cello. It voices both the deepest and the most elusively evanescent emotional material. After hearing this piece I would very much like to get to grips with Carbon’s concertos for piano, trumpet, violin and clarinet. Here the double-bass takes the role of the noble endangered  species imagined as wandering in the Rockies. Carbon's canvas is alive with activity and incident and his orchestration is more transparent than that of the Giannini. He has a Berlioz-like gift for diaphanous fabric. It's certainly not an archetypical avant-garde piece. Carbon is a direct communicator, writing in direct line to lyrical voices as various as Delius, early Stravinsky, Bax and Frank Bridge. The piece develops a singing head of eloquent steam at 08:42 onwards. At the close the music seems to evoke the inimical forces of civilisation and we are left wondering whether the species has been stamped out or 'survives' a pale degenerate shadow amid back-streets and yards. The ending is a violent expostulation by full orchestra.
 
The prolific William Thomas McKinley is no stranger to CD. His works have for example appeared on Nancy Van Der Vate's Vienna Modern Masters series as well as extensively on MMC (Master Musicians Collective) discs. After a troubled passacaglia comes a sidling easy-swinging first Variation (tr. 4 1.56). McKinley's links with the jazz and popular worlds show in  his gift for relaxation and gritty little rhythmic hooks. This is very much a sequence of tableaux, some very small. However the romantically susceptible theme remains recognisable at all times.

Both the McKinley and the Carbon were written for Richard Fredrickson.
 
Going back to my first paragraph it is interesting that with the exception of the three movement Wilfred Josephs concerto - recorded by Fredrickson's teacher Gary Carr on ABC Classics - there are no twentieth century double-bass concertos written with the grander scheme in mind. The instrument is still regarded as a high risk. However these works provide deep rewards especially the masterful Giannini. Here are opportunities for young and old players alike to shine and display subtlety and poetry.
 
This CD plays for a short time but the musical rewards, especially in the case of the Giannini, are very high if you have a predilection for music in the Barber-Walton pattern. I hope that this important work will be taken as the skirmisher for a growing catalogue that will take in all of Giannini’s symphonies; the Second and Fourth for orchestra are very impressive and the third is well known to windband specialists. His First, Fifth and Sixth I have not heard.
 
Richard Fredrickson was kind enough to provide some additional background which appears below.
 
Rob Barnett

see also review by Jonathan Woolf of Naxos 8.559352

 
Note from Richard Fredrickson
 
I first performed the Giannini Psalm 130 when I was 21, and have been in love with it and performed it many times since. At the age of 21, I never dared to think in terms of recording anything yet, but even then I knew in my heart that the Giannini was something I truly wanted to record. Guess it took a while, but this is the first recording of it. It was written for Gary Karr in 1963, and I studied it with him in 1970. It is a work of passion, drama and beauty­, words not usually applied to "concerti" for the double-bass. It is a great joy and rather thrilling to perform. I feel that it and the Josephs Concerto are two of the most beautiful original concerti for the double-bass. The Giannini is our "Schelomo", if you will. You will find much interesting information about Giannini and the Psalm 130 in the liner notes written by Walter Simmons, who, as you know, is quite a scholar on that period of American music and Giannini in particular.
 
John Carbon's Endangered Species and William Thomas McKinley's Passacaglia were commissioned by me. I had heard John's Rhapsody for clarinet and orchestra when performing it with the New York Chamber Symphony, and knew immediately I wanted to commission him. His orchestrations and lines are uniquely his. He communicates. Any musician with whom I have spoken that has played his music all say the same thing - he is a real composer with something to say. As this was his first piece for double-bass, we spent many hours on the phone going over technical changes to the solo part. Even after that, it is still technically very difficult. I had to utilize fingerings that are considered sort of no-no on the bass, i.e., cross-string fingerings high on the fingerboard on strings lower than the top string. It has been considered that playing that high on the second or third string does not produce a good sound. It can, but one must work at it. Cellists have always been doing this, but it is a relatively new concept on the bass. I think with today's composers, it is the only way to make many passages playable. John also likes to employ the "Gypsy" scale which, while an intriguing and provocative device (if I may), does not readily lend itself to the tuning in fourths of the bass. Thus in any given passage I would have to begin one kind of finger pattern, then, shift to another type pattern to finish the passage, yet make it sound seamless. A bit unnerving at first, but totally worth it. His music can be very exciting as well as somewhat otherworldly, which appeals to me greatly.
 
William Thomas McKinley is a prolific and much performed American composer. Tom called me from his office one day to say he was working on my piece, and that he had decided it should be a passacaglia. He then played the opening theme for me on the piano. I laughed and said how perfect it would be that a piece for double-bass, which almost always plays the ground bass, should be a passacaglia. Tom seems to be very fond of the variation style of composition, so it suited him perfectly. Technically, the Passacaglia is truly difficult.
 
Both the Endangered Species and the Passacaglia are two of the hardest pieces I have ever encountered. Well, I guess I asked for it! They are both excellent works, and I feel very happy that I have been able in some way to help contribute to the repertoire for the double-bass. Several pieces have been written for me over the years, and it is always an extremely exciting endeavour to prepare and perform them for the first time. Tom has subsequently written another piece for me for clarinet, double-bass and orchestra which I just recorded the end of May 2005 with clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and the Slovak Radio Orchestra, Kirk Trevor conducting.
 
By the way, the order in which these works appear on the CD is, coincidentally, the order in which we recorded them.

 


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