Ildebrando PIZZETTI (1880-1968)
String Quartet No. 1 in A major (1906) [27:48]
String Quartet No. 2 in D (1932-33) [37:37]
Lajtha Quartet (Leila Rasonyi (violin I); Gyorgy Albert (violin II); Laszlo Kolozsvari (viola); Laszlo Fenyo (cello);
rec. Festetich Castle, Budapest, January 1995. DDD
NAXOS 8.570876 [65:25]

This disc is evidence of two trends. The first is the migration from the dwindling full price Marco Polo series to Naxos. The second is the exuberant Naxos programme devoted to the orchestral and chamber music of 20th century Italy.

Pizzetti’s exotic orchestral music has been showcased on Hyperion and Eloquence but Naxos have two such discs: 8.570874 and 8.572013. They also carry another chamber music disc of his Piano Trio and Violin Sonata on 8.570875.

Italian music for anything other than the opera house has until recent decades been pretty much boycotted though the doors are now opening for discovery. Pizzetti is probably most commonly remembered for his opera Murder in the Cathedral. The biographical scene is soundly set by John C.G. Waterhouse in his extended English-only liner-note.

These two substantial string quartets reveal a further facet to the Pizzetti reputation. The buoyantly air-lofted Vivace of No. 1 is a delight in motion. It passes the baton seamlessly to a contentedly Dvorákian Adagio and the following Theme with Variations. The finale bustles along carefree with the language sometimes rather like RVW in his first published quartet. The Second Quartet is also in four movements. The whole thing runs ten minutes longer than the First. Instantly one picks up from the settling harmonic dust that innocence is no longer what it was back in 1906. A world war had intervened and fascism was on a roll. The music is still tonal but dynamic and emotionally pressurised in the outer movements. A opulently complex fondant lyricism reaches out touchingly in the second movement. The little scherzo again has that winning RVW tinge and buzzing effervescence. Dynamic eagerness and angst are at work in the finale.

I have been reviewing another Naxos CD of Italian chamber music recently - the Violin Sonata and Piano Quintet of Franco Alfano on 8.572853. By comparison Pizzetti is less uninhibitedly melodic. Alfano cannot help himself - he sings because it is hard-wired into his creative being. Pizzetti sings very touchingly as he does in the finale of the Second Quartet (5:54 and 9:19) but he builds tension and anxiety first and invests ideas and effort in doing so. The Second is a tougher proposition than the First and quite different from Alfano for much of its 38 minutes. Its high tensile atmosphere is something that resolutely draws the listener in. In the final five minutes Pizzetti proves a satisfying singer of what amounts to an anthem bathed in repletion and triumph.

The Lajtha Quartet are dedicated exponents and are warmly and closely recorded. The heat of their possessed music-making is unmistakable. An event!

Two grown-up and opulently complex tonal string quartets to add to your collection of 20th century chamber music.

Rob Barnett

Two grown-up and opulently complex melodic string quartets.