Franco FERRARA (1911-1985)
Preludio [7:54]
Fantasia Tragica [13:55]
Notte di Tempesta [14:47]
Burlesca (1932) [10:05]
Orchestra Sinfonica da Roma/Francesco La Vecchia
rec. OSR Studios, Rome, 9 July 2008, Auditorium Conciliazione, Rome, 17-18 February 2008. DDD
world premiere recordings
NAXOS 8.572410 [46:41]

The Casella symphonic series from the Orchestra Sinfonica da Roma conducted by Francesco La Vecchia positively hurtled into the shops. The discs have been reviewed favourably here alongside the CPO and Chandos issues of isolated symphonies. For the record the Naxos Casellas are:-

Symphony No. 1 etc 8.572413
Symphony No. 2 etc 8.572414
Symphony No. 3 etc 8.572415
Cello Concerto etc 8.572416

Palermo-born Ferrara has also been taken up by Naxos and La Vecchia. In 1925 he joined the Teatro Bologna orchestra as a violinist. He became a celebrity conductor overnight after deputising for Antonio Guarnieri. However he suffered from intense nerves whenever he ascended the rostrum and on several occasions even lost consciousness. He gave up the baton but in 1949 began a career in film music. His scores include Visconti's The Leopard and Huston's The Bible. He also assisted Nascimbene, Morricone, Rota and Mayuzumi.

These four pieces are suitably cinematographic and vivid in their conjuring of atmosphere. The Preludio and Fantasia Tragica the latter a Shostakovich tribute - are all about atmosphere rather than thematic allure. These paint in a mood and are moody yet without any strong melodic identity. The mien is equivalent to a concentrated piece such as Bax's Northern Ballad No. 2 but with the original themes leached away.

Notte di Tempesta holds the interest with a much tighter grip. It is tensely reflective yet gentle at first. Soon a grand comber of an idea surges up (4:40) before being released in a furious storm. It is a vivid late-romantic piece and some of its ideas seem to be casting sideways glances at Debussy's La Mer. This is not up there with Nystroem's and Sibelius's Tempest preludes of Britten's Grimes' Storm but it is worth remembering. At its peak it is reminiscent of Bax's more stormy tone poems such as November Woods and Tintagel.

The chuckling and vivacious Burlesca is the most successful piece here. It recalls another aspect of Bax - his swooning strings and brass-writing in the frothy light overtures such as Overture to a Picaresque Comedy. It's also a reminder of the overtures of Coates and Haydn Wood.

Those last two pieces are more memorable than the other two though everything here is at least intriguing.

Rob Barnett

Everything here is at least intriguing.