Gian Francesco MALIPIERO (1883-1973)
The Symphonies - Volume 4
Symphony No. 7 Sinfonia della Canzona (1948) [23.39] ;
Sinfonia in un tempo (1950) [27.07]
Sinfonia per Antigenida (1962) [17.55]
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Antonio de Almeida
rec. Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, May-June 1993
NAXOS 8.570881 [68.41]

This series of symphonic works by Malipiero originally became available on the Marco Polo label between 1993 and 1995. It includes not only the numbered symphonies but also the sinfonias as here and as on volume 1 with the Sinfonia del mare (which I reviewed in 2008) and on volume 2 with the wonderful Sinfonie del silenzio e della morte

The Seventh Symphony was, for several years, the last of the numbered symphonies it being followed by the three Sinfonias of which two can be heard here. I will say immediately that I really like this work. There is for much of its time a carefree, out-of-doors feel to it that might remind you a little of neo-Stravinsky or of the excitement of a Martinů Allegro. I say this despite the dodgy moments of tuning in the upper woodwind and in the horns especially in the first two movements. Obviously the Moscow Orchestra had to get through a great deal of material in the all too brief recording sessions. The symphony falls into four movements. A brief opener in respect of which John C.G. Waterhouse provides an explanation in his fascinating booklet notes. There he describes how it defies the usual sonata-form process. There’s a moving slow movement, a quick-silver and fun Scherzo and then a heartrending and lengthy Lento. The latter completely changes the mood of the work to end thoughtfully and almost tragically. Incidentally the subtitle “della Canzona” simply means ‘of songs’ and is probably not to be taken too seriously.

What would have been the Eighth Symphony, if Malipiero had not been so superstitious, is the single movement Sinfonia in un tempo. And that tempo is Andante. However this is somewhat misleading as there are changes of speed and mood, indeed even a short scherzo-like section. The work is allocated only one track and plays without a break but there are four thinly veiled continuously played sections. It is in many ways a beautiful work but on the whole I felt was too long and generally uninspired, even rambling. That said, its grindingly dissonant final bars bring the work to a surprising and possibly slightly disturbing conclusion. It is the best played of the three works here but, as above, there are several insecure moments in the horns and sometimes among the woodwind and upper strings.

The Sinfonia per Antigenida is variously described as ‘inscrutable’, ‘forbidding’ and reflecting the composer’s now bitter (he was now over 80) and “disillusioned attitude towards the world”. These are John C.G. Waterhouse’s words - he knew the composer. Its four brief, cursory movements are polyphonic and angst-ridden. Waterhouse writes about its “angular lines” which “interweave”. He says that when “performed badly and uncomprehendingly this work can seem totally devoid in content”. This performance however achieves “a real if esoteric power”. I am not so keen on the Moscow Symphony Orchestra’s efforts myself. The intonation in the violins in places is poor and the balance badly judged, Neither am I particularly happy with the low-powered recording. But as we will probably never hear the work in another performance one must be grateful.

The inspiration for Sinfonia per Antigenida was the piffaro playing of a pupil of the ancient Theban Antigendo. On receiving no plaudits for his work the pupil was greeted by his teacher with the words “take no notice ... it is enough that you should please me and the muses”. Obviously Malipiero saw himself in this anecdote. But it’s worth also considering that the composer was simply reacting to the musical style so prevalent in the early 1960s especially in Italy, a style which perhaps did not quite suit him.

I find myself wondering how I would feel if the Malipiero symphonies were played in a well prepared performance by a top orchestra. I am quite drawn to the music but can’t quite get involved. In any event, there is another volume to come. Then, no doubt, Naxos will box the whole lot together and there will be further reviews offering an overall view on this website. If you intend to purchase some Malipiero then I wouldn’t start here. Perhaps try the generally well played volume 1 first, to lower yourself gently into his quite individual sound-world. 

Gary Higginson