Gian Carlo MENOTTI (1911-2007)
Maria Golovin (1958)
CD 1
Acts I and II [46:43 + 30:55]
CD 2
Act III [38:27]
Violin Concerto (1958)* [27:28]
Franca Duval (soprano) - Maria Golovin; Richard Cross (bass-baritone) - Donato; Patricia Neway (alto) - The Mother; Genia Las (mezzo) - Agata; Herbert Handt (tenor) - Dr Zuckertanz; Lorenzo Muti (boy soprano) - Trottolo
orchestra and chorus/Peter Herman Adler
*Tossy Spivakovsky (violin)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch
rec. Rome 1958 (Maria) (LP RCA Victor LM6142); Symphony Hall, Boston, 8 November 1954 (LP RCA LM1868). mono ADD
NAXOS 8.111376-77 [77:38 + 65:55]

Naxos know few bounds and are not short on determination once they set to with a project. So it is with their Menotti series where they have doggedly released his music as recorded in the USA of the 1950s. The discs issued so far are:-

The Consul and Amelia al Ballo 8.112023
The Saint of Bleecker Street
and The Unicorn, The Gorgon and the Manticore 8.111360-61
The Medium
and The Telephone 8.111370
Amahl and the Night Visitors and the ballet suite from Sebastian 8.111364
The present two CD set fills in with the Menotti Violin Concerto after the third and final act of the Maria Golovin opera. The first two acts are on CD 1.

Golovin is witty and romantic. It's on pretty much the same latitude as Puccini on the one hand and Barber's Vanessa on the other. The cut and thrust of the conversation is witty and intelligent rather like Barber's A Hand of Bridge. Listen to the Act III repartee about modern composers as against the greats of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries between Zuckertanz and the Mother.

The Golovin recording sounds a little enclosed but it is clear enough and certainly not a trial. The notes mention a fabled stereo issue but this one is in mono. It was made in Rome in the same year as its premiere at the World Fair in Brussels and a run some months later on Broadway.

As with the other Naxos Menotti discs there is no libretto included. Instead the synopsis written by David Patmore is exceedingly well detailed on a track-by-track basis. This makes it an unalloyed joy to follow the music and keep in touch with the narrative.

The soloist in the Concerto is the same violinist whose recording introduced me to the Sibelius Violin Concerto - an 'antique' Vanguard LP on which also appeared Tapiola. I first encountered the Menotti Concerto through an tape-exchange friend in the USA. It's a work of singing impulse to which Menotti surrenders without falter or pause. The music will appeal strongly if you like the Barber or the Walton. Menotti allows for no obstacles to communication with his audiences. Here Spivakovsky is to the Menotti what Heifetz was to the Walton - speaking of which, listen to the final page of the Menotti. This RCA original was made in 1954 two years after the premiere was given by Efrem Zimbalist. I wonder why it was that Zimbalist recorded so little though I see that, by coincidence Pristine have just issued two of his rare concerto recordings. However let us return to the Menotti which is technically demanding as well as a triumph of cantabile. Some the writing is flashy but never such as to lose touch with singing momentum. Menotti taps into Elgarian introspection for the central movement. The joyous finale achieves a better balance with the other movements than the equivalent speed flight of the Barber concerto. The finale rather splendidly moves into a most poignant romantic dance with a North African pulsation. It's a pleasure indeed and rather caps the modern Ricci CD on Reference Recordings. The sound is an improvement in the other passionate Verdehr version. I have not heard the Shapira on ASV deleted in any event. The Menotti-Spivakovsky has also been privately issued by Haydn House.

It would be more than agreeable if Naxos, with their boundless gift for inspired unexpected choice, would turn to the exceptionally winning orchestral music of Aminollah Hossein. There were respectable French stereo analogue LPs of his piano concertos, symphonies and ballets in the 1960s but they have plunged deep into oblivion.

Returning to subject: The Menotti transfers were accomplished by Mark Obert-Thorn who by now should be able to write the definitive work on transferring analogue commercial sources to digital format. It would be no surprise if one of the universities had created a faculty for music transfer science and offered Dean of Faculty to Mark.

Go for this wonderful set if your favourites include Barber's Vanessa and the Walton Violin Concerto. I wonder how much more mono Menotti remains to be reintroduced to the modern classical marketplace.

Rob Barnett

Go for this wonderful set if your favourites include Barber's Vanessa and the Walton Violin Concerto.