Alfredo CASELLA (1883-1947)
Notte di maggio (A Night in May) for voice and orchestra, Op.20 (1913) [15:03]
Cello Concerto Op.58 (1934-35) [21:20]
Scarlattiana Op.44 (1926) [29:46]
Olivia Andreini (mezzo); Andrea Noferini (cello); Sun Hee You (piano)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma/Francesco La Vecchia
rec. November 2007, Auditorium Conciliazione, Rome
NAXOS 8.572416 [66:18]
We press forward in the Naxos Casella series with considerable confidence (see reviews of Symphony 1 and Symphony 2). This release conjoins three works, one of which is very popular, another which you will probably not have heard, and yet another which is making its first appearance on disc.
Given that premieres are always enticing, let’s start with Notte di Maggio (A Night in May), Casella’s 1913 work for voice and orchestra. Despite admitting that it was strongly influenced by The Rite of Spring, a contemporary listener would probably have pointed, rather, to Debussy. Impressionism is indeed the main ethos, though there are some Stravinskian elements later, where the level of percussive and lower string writing does attest to the fact that Casella was at the notorious premiere of The Rite, and indeed had dragged along his old pal, Malipiero. Casella gleefully informed people that he’d included a twelve-note chord, but of more immediate interest, beyond musicological novelty, is just how intense and effective the work is. The orchestration is subtle, not garish, and the vitality is kept up for the quarter of an hour. Mezzo Olivia Andreini is a vibrant contributor with an almost stentorian chest register, though she’s not always on the note. This early work should win some friends for Casella.
The Cello Concerto followed over twenty years later. Casella came from a cellistic background, and his pedigree is enhanced when one knows that his grandfather, a cellist, had been a friend of Paganini, and that his father, Carlo, was the dedicatee of a concerto by Alfredo Piatti, one of the great players of the day. Thus armed, Casella pitches the intrepid soloist head first into the concerto - no lingering about - in an intrepid and urgent first movement. The orchestration is not especially reticent - brass, basses to the fore - but it doesn’t cover the soloist, because Casella varies it cannily, often asking the soloist to play in the lower register in the opening movement. There are lyric moments too in this opening but nothing quite prepares one for the delicate way Casella leads into the linked slow movement, where finally Casella allows the cello to soar, and find another voice. This is a truly lovely passage, where the rich string accompaniment, the calming brass, and the solo bronze of the fine protagonist, Andrea Noferini, conjures quite a spell. To finish, Casella unleashes what he called his ‘updated bumblebee’ for a wholly unserious, very enjoyable finale.
And when a performance of Scarlattiana is as persuasive as this one, where pianist Sun Hee You plays so dextrously, and where - in particular - the basses and winds are so affectionate in their contributions, then this is a performance to hear with the greatest of pleasure.
Presiding over these forces is Francesco La Vecchia and once again he and his forces prove to have Casella in their bloodstream. I warmed to their way with the First Symphony and I warm to this disc just as much, finely recorded and annotated as it is.
La Vecchia and his forces have Casella in their bloodstream.