Mario CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO(1895-1968) Shakespeare Overtures - Vol. 1 Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar), Op. 78 (1934) [11:19] La bisbetica domata (The Taming of the Shrew), Op. 61 (1930)
[9:22] Antony and Cleopatra, Op. 134 (1947) [17:49] A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 108 (1940) [6:43] The Tragedy of Coriolanus, Op. 135 (1947) [9:14] La dodicesima notte (Twelfth Night), Op. 73 (1933) [10:40]
West Australian Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Penny
rec. 14-22 April 1994, WASO Studios, Perth, Australia
NAXOS ITALIAN CLASSICS 8.572500 [65:07]
The Naxos series of Italian Classics has unearthed some real
gems, not least the First
symphonies of Alfredo Casella. His compatriot, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco,
is also due for reappraisal, so in that respect these overtures
are most welcome. That said, the composer’s Hollywood years
– he wrote the music for around 200 films – made it more difficult
to pursue a career as a ‘serious’ artist. Fellow émigré Erich
Wolfgang Korngold faced much the same problem, but he seems
to have been as successful in the concert hall as he was on
the silver screen.
Doing the honours in this first volume of overtures – the second
is available on 8.572501 – are Andrew Penny and the West Australian
Symphony Orchestra. The band may be unfamiliar, but the British-born
conductor is not; indeed, his Naxos recordings of Malcolm Arnold
symphonies and British light music have been very well received.
Curiously, this ‘world premiere’ collection was recorded 16
years ago, and I have to say the overture to Julius Caesar
doesn’t augur well. This is drab stuff, made even more so by
a close, rather airless acoustic. And if that wasn’t enough,
the strings sound scrawny, the brass poorly blended.
Yes, The Taming of the Shrew – which sounds good enough
to eat in its Italian translation – promises to be light rather
than lugubrious, but within seconds it’s clear this isn’t much
better. A quick comparison with other Shakespeare-inspired works,
such as Korngold’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Walton’s
Hamlet or Henry V, confirms just how musically
threadbare Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s efforts really are. True, the
atmospheric start to his Antony and Cleopatra is more
encouraging, but scrappy playing and a paucity of musical invention
conspire to render this music instantly forgettable.
And I’m afraid it doesn’t get any better. For instance, AMidsummer Night’s Dream – of all Shakespeare’s comedies
the one that has the most musical and dramatic promise – is
not as vital or as varied as it might be. Yes, it would be utterly
pointless to reprise Mendelssohn, but what we get instead can
best be described as unsmiling and anodyne. But it’s the tragedies
where the lack of dramatic thrust, of noble, stirring melodies,
is most keenly felt. Just sample Coriolanus where, despite
some grand flourishes, the music doesn’t even come close to
capturing the spirit of the play. Ditto the leaden treatment
of Twelfth Night; really, if these were film scores they
would be considered second-rate at best.
Happily, dud discs are a rarity, but this collection comes perilously
close to being one of them. The music itself is unremarkable,
although I do wonder whether a better band – and more committed
direction – would bring more life and sparkle to these pieces.
But sadly, until there’s an alternative recording, we’ll have
to make do with this one.
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