Salvatore DI VITTORIO (b.1967)
*Overtura Respighiana (2008) [5:38]
*Sinfonia no.2 'Lost Innocence' (1997/2000) [14:20]
Ave Maria, for female chorus (1995/1998) [7:46]
*Sinfonia no.1 'Isolation', for string orchestra (1994/1999) [20:24]
Sonata no.1, for solo clarinet (1995/1998) [8:44]
Benjamin Baron (clarinet)
Respighi Choir
*Chamber Orchestra of New York 'Ottorino Respighi'/Salvatore Di Vittorio
rec. Performing Arts Center, Adelphi University, New York, 15-16 February, 24-25 May 2010. DDD
NAXOS 8.572333 [56:52]
Ottorino Respighi's unfinished Violin Concerto in A was elaborated and completed - at the request of Respighi's family, no less - by Italian composer Salvatore Di Vittorio. He conducted Laura Marzadori with the awkwardly-named Chamber Orchestra of New York 'Ottorino Respighi' in the Concerto's world premiere performance early in 2010. He presided again in its first recording. The sessions took place a few weeks later at the same fixture as this disc of Di Vittorio's own works. It was released on Naxos this summer only a month after the Respighi disc - about which, see review.
Clearly, Di Vittorio has an affinity with Respighi, and indeed the blurb for this release describes him as "hailed by critics as 'following in the footsteps of Respighi'". The CD thus opens appropriately with the Overtura Respighiana, a light, cheery piece that "fuses Rossini's influence on Respighi with both of their influences on Di Vittorio’s own musical language". Not exactly a work of genius, but pleasant enough - yet marred by Naxos's poor editing, cutting short by a fraction of a second the dying reverberation of the work's final chord, a spectre which looms again, and much larger, later on in the programme - see below.
The Sinfonia no.2 is more interesting, although perhaps a bit lightweight-sounding to follow right after the Overture. Given its fairly reflective, sometimes even upbeat nature - the second movement 'Dance of Tears' never quite manages to come across as ironic - it is a surprise to learn that the work was "inspired by the tragedy of the Yugoslav civil wars in the late 1990s". "Inspired" is perhaps not the best word in the circumstances, and the Dayton Agreement ended four years of civil war in 1995. Despite passages of genuine drama in the third and fourth movements, the music generally refuses to weigh itself down with gravitas, instead shaking off the gloom and doom of the section titles. It leaves the listener feeling more hopeful about the future than any witness to the mindless brutality of those wars had a right to be.
Incidentally, both Sinfonias on this CD are symphonies, and it might have been less confusing for Naxos to label them as such, rather than use the Italian word which has other connotations in the English-speaking world.
The Ave Maria, for a cappella female chorus, provides a rather incongruous but pleasing interlude. Di Vittorio writes that it "attempts to capture the essence and spirit of all that is womanhood", which seems a rather extravagant claim. It is nevertheless attractive and approachable, something like a 19th century rewriting of a Renaissance motet. The nine voices of the Respighi Choir sing very nicely, even if they do not necessarily live up to the composer's stated hopes!
The four-movement Sinfonia no.1, written for strings alone, is a longer and altogether more profound work than no.2. Indicatively subtitled 'Isolation', Di Vittorio describes it as a programmatic work, based on folksongs, which expresses "human emotional and spiritual longing, man's longing for his enlightened inner self." Certainly there is much that is philosophically brooding or elegiac, particularly the first two movements. The overall mood tends towards melancholy, but the music is still far from bleak, as if golden sunshine were threatening to break through the grey clouds at any moment. Things take a more positive path in the second half of the work, with a mellow final movement that is more Tchaikovsky than Respighi. Both Symphonies and the Ave Maria have been recorded once previously, on a live disc released by Italian label Panastudio in 2000 (CDC1068-2).
Unfortunately, the Naxos recording goes to pot in the last 15 seconds of the third movement, with flickerings of volume that suggest the producer's cat suddenly ran across the faders, and there is more unwelcome technical meddling in the final movement. Naxos can probably correct these faults online easily enough, but it is still surprising that such things are not picked up in quality control before the expensive business of publishing CDs.
The Chamber Orchestra of New York 'Ottorino Respighi' is still very young, created by Di Vittorio in 2006. There is a certain greenness to their performance in the two Symphonies and the Overture - not bad, by any means, but a little 'unbuttoned' at times.
Finally, and again somewhat at odds with the orchestral music, comes the Sonata no.1, for solo clarinet. Di Vittorio has written a Sonata no.2 since, but it is for piano - in other words, this may be the only Sonata for solo clarinet he will produce. That would be a pity, because, although short and simple, it is an immediately appealing, expressive yet introspective three-movement work (moderato, più mosso, moderato). It would surely make a lovely encore for any clarinettist and is soulfully played here by Benjamin Baron.
Sound quality is generally good, with a slight mark-down for the first three works, in which the microphones have not performed as well as elsewhere, leading to a slight lack of definition in the highest registers and volumes. There is very faint traffic noise audible only very occasionally. The CD booklet is the usual slim-but-informative effort, with notes by Di Vittorio, who is pictured looking Italian.
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Di Vittorio’s music has an affinity with that of Respighi.