Gian Francesco MALIPIERO (1883-1973)
The Symphonies - Volume 5
Sinfonia dello zodiaco (1951) [42:17]
Symphony No.9 ‘dell’ahimè’ (1966) [15:46]
Symphony No.10 ‘Atropo’ (1967) [13:20]
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Antonio de Almeida
rec. February 1993, Mosfilm Studio, Moscow
NAXOS 8.570882 [71:23]

This is the fifth and last volume of the Marco Polo Malipiero symphonic cycle to migrate to Naxos. The relevant disc number was Marco Polo 8.223697. It was recorded in Moscow in 1993 and presents the superstitiously unnumbered Sinfonia dello zodiaco of 1951 and the Ninth and Tenth which followed in 1967-68.

The Sinfonia dello zodiaco has a very unusual shape. It’s divided into four Partitas, each seasonal (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) which are themselves subdivided into three movements, making twelve movements in total. This ‘Four Seasons’ schema has a smattering of Beethovenian pastoralism and a heap of neo-classical authority. Winds are springy, and the finale of the Spring movement sports a deliciously and lightly orchestrated string/wind dialogue. The opening of Autumn oscillates between lissom lightness and strong, sinewy athleticism, but staunch march themes are never far away either. You can sample one such in the finale of this Partita, one that ends, in a very Malipiero way, definitely ‘in the air’ – the composer being perhaps over-fond of this disjunctive, irresolute procedure. Some of the wind writing is definably French – try that enshrined in the opening of Winter. It ends in an agitato movement, string and brass-led, rather brusque, and once again ending in irresolution.

The Ninth Symphony is cast, by contrast, in three compact movements lasting roughly a quarter of an hour, unlike the earlier symphony which lasted forty-two minutes in this Moscow performance. There is a piano in the orchestral patina, but there’s also a sense of terse concision too, an unswerving, almost declamatory directness. The sense of urgency increases as the work develops; the orchestration is precise, no-nonsense, with no extraneous colours. This symphony too ends with a trademark question mark. The Tenth sports a subtitle that refers to one of the Fates in Classical Mythology, Atropo, one who cuts the thread of life. The work was dedicated to the memory of the conductor Hermann Scherchen, a good friend of the composer, who collapsed and died just after having conducted Malipiero’s L’Ofreide. It’s a disquieting work of strange conjunctions and disjunctions and terse to the point of brooding intensity.

The late Antonio de Almeida directed the performances here a few years before his death in 1997. Their directness and control are impressive. The symphonies are rather heterogeneous, and make for contrastive listening; the long 1951 work followed by the terse works from the mid 1960s.

Jonathan Woolf

Disquieting, strange conjunctions and disjunctions, terse to the point of brooding intensity.