Gian Francesco Malipiero was one of the few Italian composers to write symphonies. Even so, he didn’t neglect opera – nineteen of the latter to eleven of the former. What I know of his original music is that it shows a firm hand in control and a creative mind which could carry an argument through a long time-span. He also arranged older pieces and this disk starts with one of his last works, an arrangement of music by Giovanni Gabrieli. Gabrieli hasn’t been plundered, as has J.S. Bach, by more recent composers, so we’re not used to the perfect lines of his music played in a modern setting. Gabrieliana is an attempt to bring “the natural stereophony of double–choral sound to the concert hall …” and it would be an interesting idea were the arrangements worthy of note. However, for me, the sound was far too similar throughout, with little variety in the settings. A somewhat, plodding feel permeates the music.
After this the language of the Serenata comes as something of a shock. It’s not dodecaphonic, but it certainly isn’t straightforwardly tonal either. There is a bluff sense of humour, but certainly not fun, here, and as the bassoon chortles, the accompaniment is more serious. It’s a lovely work, giving much pleasure to the listener, whilst also making him/her work whilst listening. This is much more interesting, musically.
But then we’re thrown back into the past with another arrangement. Malipiero spent 22 years of his life editing the works of Monteverdi. The four movements here come from the 7th Book of Madrigals and Malipiero made the arrangements because he considered the originals not to be vocal in character! Unfortunately, on the strength of what I can hear, they don’t appear to be instrumental in character either. Whilst it is obvious that Malipiero has a great reverence for the music with which he is working, he fails to inject anything of himself into the pieces. Can you imagine a Busoni transcription of a Bach organ work for the piano where he simply copied out the notes? Ultimately, I can see no point for these two suites, and, what’s more, they have taken up the space which could have been better occupied by some of Malipiero’s original works.
The final two works are most welcome. The 5 Favole set 16th century texts. They are succinct and very approachable, even though the language is more complicated than one might expect. The vocal line covers a wide range, and the small orchestra is used sparingly. As with the Serenata, this music cannot be taken for granted and a close study, through repeated hearings, will show the beauty and simplicity of the work. The Sette Canzonette Veneziane set Venetian popular songs from an 1844 collection, but the voice is clearly the same as that of the 5 Favole, indeed, if you didn’t check the booklet you’d think you were listening to one long piece. All these songs are fine exampels, but they are too similar in sound.
Perhaps that is the real problem here - there simply isn’t sufficient variety in the music recorded. The weaknesses of the arrangements only go to make the original works feel poorer than they really are. Despite the fact that there are no memorable tunes in any of the original works, I still found this an interesting disk. There is colour in the music, and it’s obviously the work of a composer who has something to say. The performances sound to be very good and committed. The recorded sound is clear and the booklet (in German, English and French) contains full texts and translations. The Symphonies certainly must be heard – Naxos is currently re–issuing the complete set which first appeared on Marco Polo – but the three works here make a good introduction to Malipiero’s music. He’s worth giving some time to.