Luigi DALLAPICCOLA (1904 - 1975)
Tartiniana (1951)a [14:43]
Due Pezzi (1947) [12:17]
Piccola Musica Notturna (1954) [8:53]
Frammenti Sinfonici dal Balletto ‘Marsia’ (1942/3, arr. 1947) [20:04]
Variazioni per Orchestra (1953/4) [16:34]
James Ehnes (violin)a; BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 14-16 April 2004
CHANDOS CHAN 10258 [73:07]

In March I enthusiastically reviewed Volume 2 of the Chandos recording of Dallapiccola’s orchestral works. With some delay, here is Volume 1 - perhaps not submitted for review at the time of release. Unlike Volume 2 which included works from both ends of the composer’s career, Volume 1 offers a comprehensive survey of works composed during one of the most important decades in the composer’s life.

Thus, the earliest work Frammenti Sinfonici dal Balletto ‘Marsia’ was composed in 1947. In fact Dallapiccola composed his only ballet score in 1942-1943 to a scenario based on the well-known legend of Marsyas who challenged Apollo who has him flayed alive. The very title of the orchestral suite is somewhat deceptive in that these fragments actually represent some two-thirds of the complete ballet score, so that one may have a fairly good idea of what the ballet was like. The music is still redolent of some older composers such as Ravel, Stravinsky and even Respighi, but there is already much of great quality in this far from derivative score. There are many beautiful episodes indeed in this colourful and superbly crafted score that has one wondering why such marvellous music is not heard more often.

In 1946 Dallapiccola made sketches for a score to accompany a documentary film on Piero della Francesca that did not materialise. He then reworked some of this material into Due Studi for violin and piano in 1946/7. These were then elaborated for full orchestra as Due Pezzi. Unlike the Frammenti Sinfonici, the music is already twelve-tone orientated. The first movement is a slow, ghostly Nocturne whereas the second one Fanfara e Fuga is a more energetic working out of material heard in the preceding movement.

Piccola Musica Notturna is probably one of Dallapiccola’s best-known works. It is an atmospheric Nocturne whose predominant dreamy mood is briefly shattered by brief outbursts. It is interesting to note that the composer made a version for eight players some time later, i.e. in 1961, which I find less successful because much of the music rests on the strings which are reduced to a string trio in the chamber version so that much of the mysterious nocturnal mood is lost.

In 1952 during a trip through Latin America Dallapiccola composed Quaderno Musicale di Annalibera, one of his most important works for piano. Quaderno is in fact a theme and variations of some sort since the entire score is based on a row heard at the outset. The composer considered Quaderno as his most rigorous twelve-tone score (at the time of composition). In fact Quaderno may also be experienced as an example not only of twelve-tone writing but also as a study in brevity and in aphorism: the eleven sections are all quite short. Actually the longest (Variazione I) ticks at a little over three minutes while the shortest (Variazione V) plays for twenty-two seconds. Nevertheless the composer succeeds in suggesting a huge range of moods and expressions over such short time-spans. Not a single note is wasted and everything is said with a minimum of means. The orchestral version under the title of Variazioni per Orchestra was completed to fulfil a commission from the Louisville Orchestra. The orchestral version retains most of the original piano version but it goes without saying that the masterly scoring does add some considerable weight and variety when compared to the black and white piano version. Variazioni per Orchestra is a splendid object lesson in scoring as well as a wonderful orchestral work that hugely repays repeated hearings. This is the kind of work that grows on you with repeated hearings.

These performances cannot be faulted and neither can the superb recording which does full justice to the many felicities in Dallapiccola’s masterly orchestral scoring. This pair of recordings of Dallapiccola’s orchestral music will certainly help music-lovers in considering or reconsidering their opinion on Dallapiccola’s music. It may sometimes be austere and ‘difficult’, will probably never become popular but is nevertheless well worth the effort for the rewards are priceless. I wish now that Chandos and Noseda might be persuaded to record Dallapiccola’s works for chorus and orchestra such as the impressive Canti di Liberazione and Requiescant - the latter having never been recorded before to the best of my knowledge.

Hubert Culot