Giuseppe MARTUCCI (1856-1909)
Complete Orchestral Music - vol. 3
Piano Concerto No 1 in D minor, Op 40 (1878) [34:20]
La canzone dei ricordi (1887, orch 1898) [33:33]
Gesualdo Coggi (piano); Silvia Pasini (mezzo)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma/Francesco La Vecchia
rec. Auditorium Conciliazione Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma Studios, October 2007, January 2008, March 2008
NAXOS 8.570931 [67:53]
Giuseppe Martucci's lifespan roughly corresponds to the latter half of Giuseppe Verdi's rather longer one. His output might be considered a bizarro version of his older countryman's oeuvre. Where Verdi concentrated on composing operas, many of which remain repertoire staples, Martucci produced a fair amount of instrumental music: symphonic, chamber, solo piano, a single song-cycle and no operas at all.
That said, the unsuspecting listener could be forgiven for thinking that the introduction to the D minor piano concerto - the horns intoning a call to attention in quiet octaves, followed by gradually expanding string tremolos - was, rather, one to an operatic scena out of middle-period Verdi. The passage shortly thereafter, heralded by octave pizzicatos, fits right into that scene. The soloist's imposing entrance chords finally dispel that impression. The give and take between piano and orchestra as the tempo picks up evinces a Schumann-Mendelssohn influence, while the second theme and some passages in the development are Chopinesque in texture, though with more skilfully wrought orchestral backings.
In the Andante, after an introductory string chorale, the piano takes over in a style which again suggests Chopin, with lightly chordal left-hand accompaniment. The faster motion at 3:28, with the busy piano figurations weaving around various orchestral melodic strands unexpectedly prefigures Rachmaninov. The finale begins uneasily, with brief vaulting figures under quiet, rustling accompaniments. It gradually opens into an agitated chordal theme on the piano; the movement is dramatic and concisely argued.
For all the suggestions of more familiar composers, the concerto as a whole doesn't sound derivative. Martucci subsumes the diverse stylistic traits and tics into a distinctive voice of his own, melodic and passionate, encompassing sustained introspection as well as externalized drama. And the score certainly has persuasive advocates here. Gesualdo Coggi plays the block chords with deep, resonant tone - stunningly reproduced by the Naxos engineers - and brings off the various rippling figurations with dexterous clarity. He gets first-rate support from Francesco La Vecchia and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma. The ensemble is strong in all departments, but the strings, tonally vibrant and trimly phrased, are particularly beautiful.
The song-cycle of the nineteenth century was primarily a German and French phenomenon, so Martucci's La canzone dei ricordi ("The Song of Memories") stood as an anomaly. The texts, by Neapolitan poet Rocco Emanuele Pagliara, are suggestive as the narrator alternates between vivid memories and present-day ruminations upon them. While the composer avoided opera, he clearly understood the voice, fashioning grateful, effective phrases for it. In the opening meditative song, the orchestral writing is tentative and a bit pale; after that, Martucci etches more strongly colored sounds. The tuttis expand and blossom in a way that, even without heavy brass, foreshadows the splashier palette and busier textures of Respighi in the twentieth century.
The orchestral playing, once again, is excellent. The strings handle the quiet opening song with clean assurance, and distil the concentrated atmosphere of the introduction to Un vago memorio. In Fior di ginestra, the oboe is full and expressive, while the succeeding passage for clarinet, horn and pizzicato strings sounds oddly Neo-classical.
I just wish the singing was better. Silvia Masini's voice, unlike those of some other current practitioners, sounds authentically mezzo, with a natural darkness; but it isn't firmly grounded. She sounds diffuse in that opening song, with some iffy tuning of the tricky, angular phrases. She improves later on, when she can sing out more; even so, she pulls away from the voice for softer effects, turning fluttery on the concluding diminuendo of Su'l mar la navicella. The singer brings some chest voice into the lower cadences of Un vago mormorio, but inefficiently, as if she's not entirely sure how to do it.
The concerto, at least, could hardly be bettered, and it's unlikely that another account of the song-cycle will become readily available so this issue can be recommended as it stands. As suggested earlier, the Naxos engineering is excellent, but I'll pick a few nits about their production. The pause between the first two movements of the piano concerto is too brief - another second or two would have let the end of the first clear properly. The booklet offers the song texts in Italian only; more irritating, the Italian program notes, by Marta Marullo, are more detailed and informative than those in English by Richard Whitehouse, serviceable though they are!
Stephen Francis Vasta 
This issue can be recommended as it stands - I just wish the singing was better.
Editor’s Note: Other versions - now deleted or possibly hard to track down - include Hyperion, Claves (CD 50-9807) and, amid a complete orchestral collection, on Brilliant 93439 or ASV CDDCA408. The works on the Naxos disc are replicated on ASV CDDCA 690. RB 

Reviews of other releases in this series
Volume 1: 8.570929 - Symphony 1
Volume 2: 8.570930 - Symphony 2
Volume 4: 8.570932 - Piano concerto 2