Alfredo CASELLA (1883-1947)
Orchestral Works - Vol. 2
Concerto for Orchestra, Op. 61 (1937) [26:55]
A notte alta, Poema musicale per Pianoforte ed Orchestra (1917/1921) [19:53]
Symphonic Fragments fromLa donna serpente (1932) [26:16]
Martin Roscoe (piano)
BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. Media City UK, Salford, 5 August, 22-23 November 2011
CHANDOS CHAN10712 [73:26]

The Alfredo Casella renaissance continues with this thrilling new recording by the BBC Philharmonic and their Conductor Laureate Gianandrea Noseda. I first discovered Casella’s music with CPO’s 2009 recording of his early tone poem Italia and Symphony No. 3. Soon after, Naxos issued four recordings of Casella symphonies and orchestral music in quick succession, played by the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma conducted by Francesco La Vecchia. Yet it was the 2012 Noseda/BBC Philharmonic recording Symphony No. 2, coupled with neo-classical suite Scarlattiana that convinced me that Casella is one of the important Italian composers of the 20th century. His mastery of orchestration is the equal of his compatriot Respighi, while his continual experimentation and mastery of differing compositional styles is similar to Stravinsky. The works present here are drawn from two stylistic periods in his compositional career.
The CD opens with a riveting premiere recording of Concerto for Orchestra, written in 1937 and dedicated to “William Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its foundation.” Casella must have seized on the opportunity to write for an orchestra of such well known virtuosity and musicianship. His score features writing meant to display the individual and corporate brilliance of this orchestra. The first movement begins with driving motor rhythms, featuring disjunct, non-legato writing for the winds. This contrasts with melodic material for the strings that struggles to dominate the winds. This is very reminiscent of Hindemith, and, as Gerald Larner points out on his excellent notes, it is possible that Casella knew Hindemith’s Concert for Orchestra, written in 1925. At 3:30, the driving rhythm ceases, and the strings finally produce a soaring melody that belies Casella’s Italian heritage. The anxious motor rhythm quickly reasserts itself, the string’s melody again subsumed by the wind writing, until the music at 6:30 reaches another moment of repose. The movement ends as these two conflicting musics arrive at an uneasy truce.
The second movement is an eight-measure chromatic Passacaglia, introduced by the lower strings. The passacaglia repeats 14 times, with continuous variation by other sections of the orchestra. As expected the variations become increasingly complex, arriving at a tam-tam laden climax at 3:14. The passacaglia theme then moves into the upper strings, and the music becomes calmer and more mysterious, with some ravishing playing by the BBC Philharmonic, especially the forlorn trumpet solo at 4:54. A variation featuring gorgeous writing for the first violin follows, the music winding down to almost nothing, leading into a canonic variation between upper and lower voices. The orchestral timbre is a kaleidoscope of color, giving several members of the orchestra a moment to shine. The music makes a half-hearted attempt to return to its opening frentic music, but this energy gives way to the prevailing tranquil mood, the movements ending with a soft chord played by the flutes. This mood is immediately dispatched by the sharp downbeat that begins the final movement, again featuring rhythmically vigorous, disjunct writing that never pauses for a breath. The movement ends in joyful optimism, surely intended to bring an audience to its feet. Why do we never hear this music in the concert hall?
The next work, A notte alta, a “Poema musicale per Pianoforte ed Orchestra” was originally written for piano solo in 1917 . Casella dedicated it to Yvonne, his second wife, with whom he started a relationship in Paris when she was his student - and when he was already married. Yvonne became his second wife after the first marriage was annulled, and Casella orchestrated the work during their honeymoon. The programme note is not included in the liner notes, but Larner does write that the music is about “two lovers at night,” which has an obvious parallel with Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. The opening is laden with mystery, descending chords over a throbbing bass line, that in turn lead into chords of open fifths moving in parallel motion. It is hard not to hear the influences of Enescu and Ravel in this music, both of whom were classmates of Casella at the Paris Conservatoire. Strangely, for a piece dedicated to his new bride, the music suggested to me that things do NOT work out well for the couple. This piece appeared on one of the Naxos recordings done by Orchestra Sinfonica de Roma, with pianist Sun Hee You. While the Naxos recording has a strong sense of atmosphere, and You’s playing strikes me as equally fine to Marin Roscoe’s here, La Vecchia allows momentary losses of tension. Noseda’s handling of the piece’s many transitions is more organic and natural sounding. Additionally, the Chandos recording is more opulent that what Naxos provides for the Italians.
The recording closes with Symphonic Fragments from “La donna serpente”.The opera, which premiered in 1932, has a convoluted plot that Casella readily acknowledged had a kinship with the fairy tale operas of Rimsky-Korsakov. In 1932 Casella was firmly in his third and final neo-classical stage, and many parts of this music displayed a sharpness and transparency of texture that reminded me of Nielsen’s Maskarade. Throughout its 26 minute duration I often heard a passage that reminded me of a widely divergent list of composers, including Richard Strauss, Puccini, Stravinsky, Respighi, Vivaldi, Mozart, and the above-mentioned Nielsen. Yet a clear, individual voice still emerges and I am once again dumbstruck by how engaging and wonderful this music is.
The orchestra plays its collective heart out, and the Chandos recording is stunning in its realism and impact. I was thrilled to see that the CD Cover states “Orchestral Works: Volume 2.” I eagerly await future release from these performers.
David A. McConnell 

Engaging and wonderful music with the orchestra playing its collective heart out. Stunning realism and impact. 

see also review by Ian Lace (June 2012 Recording of the Month)