RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Franco ALFANO (1875-1954)
Violin Sonata in D (1923) [31:31]
Piano Quintet in A flat major (1945) [27:58]
Nenia and Scherzino for violin and piano (arr. Enrico Pierangeli) (1936) [4:24+2:23]
Elmira Darvarova (violin), Scott Dunn (piano), Mary Ann Mumm (violin), Craig Mumm (viola), Samuel Magill (cello)
rec. Edith Memorial Chapel, The Lawrenceville School, Lawrenceville, NJ, 22-23 February 2011. DDD
NAXOS 8.572753 [66:16]
For a while it seemed that Alfano was to be remembered simply as the composer who completed Puccini's Turandot. That's no bad thing. At least it kept his name somewhere near public awareness and intermittent curiosity. Others have suffered far worse. He also benefited because his operas, written during the verismo ascendancy, received wide-spaced occasional revivals and then recordings. Beyond his dozen operas there are four ballets, a Hymn to Bolivar (premiered in Caracas in December 1930 to mark the Bolivar centenary), a Suite Romantica for orchestra, Three Tagore Songs for voice and chamber orchestra, a Divertimento for piano and chamber orchestra and three string quartets, a cello sonata and a violin sonata. There are two ambitious symphonies and a third dating from 1934 for 32 instruments.
His concert works have emerged only slowly from the long and suffocating shadow cast by Respighi and have done so alongside those of Casella, Ghedini and Pizzetti. His Cello Sonata and Triple Concerto can be heard on Naxos 8.570928. His first two symphonies are on CPO 777 080. There is also a CD of his opera Cyrano de Bergerac on CPO and a DVD/Blu-ray on Naxos 2.110270 or Blu-ray NBD0005.
Here the 1923 original version of the Violin Sonata is caught in full passionate radiance. The music sings and sings and sings. If you enjoy the Delius sonatas and the Walton violin concerto then seek this out without delay. The ideas are intrinsically good and the flow and dramatic schema make an ineluctable case. The music speaks without a tremor with its face looking into the light. The Piano Quintet was his last chamber work. It continues the style of the Sonata with exultantly cantabile magnificently weighted and paced. One might well think while hearing this glorious work of the romantic chamber music of Chausson, early Fauré, Joseph Marx and Korngold. The performance feels utterly committed - no half measures.
The CD ends with a bipartite piece also in a world premiere recording. There's the elfin delight of the chuckling and light-suffused Nenia contrasted with the skippingly pregnant tension and sweetly liquid triumphal progress of the Scherzino.
Dr Konrad Dryden is to be congratulated on his outstanding liner-note. He clearly knows his subject having written the monograph Franco Alfano - Transcending Turandot. Now that Alfano monograph I would like to read. The composer's life would make a fine television documentary and Dryden would be key to such a project. More to the point, he avoids the often futile attempts to describe works in words. Instead he delivers an attentive, well-structured and detailed account of the music and its context. For now though let's hope for more of the concert music.
This is late-romantic music that sings with it face looking into radiance.