Gian Francesco MALIPIERO (1883 - 1973)
The Symphonies – Vol. 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, Russia. DDD
NAXOS 8.570882 [71:23]
Malipiero wrote 11 numbered symphonies, recordings of all of which, originally on the Marco Polo label, have now been re-issued by Naxos in five volumes … wherever there is an adequate performing version. In each case, the Moscow Symphony Orchestra under the French conductor and musicologist, Antonio de Almeida, play persuasively. They bring verve and enthusiasm to the music, which was written across Malipiero's long career, though not at every stage in it: he wrote no fewer than seven sinfonie between 1944 and 1951. It's a worthwhile set to own; that's just as well, because it's the only effectively complete set. It omits the early Sinfonia degli eroi. But includes half a dozen unnumbered works to which Malipiero gave the title, sinfonia and is one of very few other recordings of Malipiero's symphonies anyway.
The three works on this final re-issue - from almost 20 years ago - in the series are three: by far the longest at almost three quarters of an hour in four distinct parts, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, is the Sinfonia dello zodiaco ('Zodiac Symphony') which was published in 1951. It's not to be confused with the composer's first symphony, subtitled 'In quattro tempi, come le quattro stagioni', or 'In four movements, like the four seasons'. Each part of Sinfonia dello zodiaco is further divided into three movements corresponding to the months of which the seasons are made up, although they are not named other than with tempo markings. Malipiero was evasive about the origins of the symphony in particular and any relationships with astrology or the seasonal year in general. It's hard to see anything like the same programmatic correspondence as is clearly the case with Vivaldi - even though the latter had texts.
The excellent liner-notes that come with this CD indicate that the first movements of each part (movements 1, 4, 7 and 10) suggest seasonal characteristics. Certainly the thin, frozen tentative nature of the beginning of winter (10) is remarkably apposite. The Moscow Symphony Orchestra lives very well with the dichotomy that comes from such a diffuse structure (or at least inexplicit and more impressionistic than purely descriptive) on the one hand; and much colour, motivic variety and quiet purpose as opposed to extra-musical wandering, on the other.
Like many other composers, Malipiero was superstitious about his symphonies' numbering, making efforts to avoid writing a ninth which to this day still confuse. When he eventually felt it safe to do so, he was in his 80s and had written at least two others which could have been so called. The official Ninth "dell’ahimè" (the '"alas" (symphony)' perhaps) dates from 1966. It's much more pointed and punchy than the earlier work. It's shorter, too; at just a quarter of an hour, which is, in fact, more typical of the composer. For as much as Malipiero seems interested in developing thematic progression, he proportionally eschews wholly consistent tonal bases; or, more accurately, he encourages tonal clashes.
The Tenth also has a subtitle. It implies winding down or disability due to age, 'atrophy' is implicit, although Atropo is Atropos, one of the Greek goddesses of fate. In fact it's dedicated to the memory of conductor Hermann Scherchen, a great friend of Malipiero's: the former collapsed and died immediately after a performance of the latter's operatic triptych L’Orfeide at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino of 1966. The Tenth Symphony is rich in relevant quotations. If the Ninth is bleak, the Tenth is bleaker. Again the orchestra is totally in tune with the spirit and musical construction which Malipiero embraced in order to breathe life into these admittedly somewhat enigmatic works. The qualities of sincerity, unobtrusive yet barely assimilated distress, and a vestige of hope (the serene second movement [tr.17]) make this a fitting ending to this symphonic portrait of an under-appreciated composer. More and more Malipiero is beginning to be offered as the most significant Italian symphonist of his generation.
There is nothing of regimentation, bombast, driven hectoring or short cuts to orchestral (particularly string) colour in the playing of the Moscow Symphony. De Almeida has a light but firm and unambiguous touch at all times. One might just perhaps level the criticism of somewhat staid tempi on occasions. Maybe a touch more pep in the third, marked mosso, movement of the Tenth, for example.
On the whole, though, this is a recording to be returned to, learnt from and from which new depths can be derived at each revisit. No one section of the orchestra stands out as particularly worthy of merit. Indeed, the sense of ensemble between woodwind and strings, say, is highly satisfactory. The difficult, because slightly self-conscious, diminuendo bell effect two and a half minutes into the Tenth's last movement (again, marked molto vivace and perhaps lacking just a touch of drive) is well handled too.
If you've been collecting the series you'll want to add this concluding CD. If you're just joining, the interpretations are of sufficiently high standard to make you want to work your way backwards and explore more widely.
A revealing and pleasing conclusion to the Naxos reissue of the Marco Polo Malipiero symphonies set.