Ermanno WOLF-FERRARI (1876-1948)
Triptychon Op. 19 (1936) [16:25]
Arabesken über eine Arie von Ettore Tito Op. 22 (1937) [12:43]
Divertimento Op. 20 (1936) [21:07]
Venezianische Suite Op. 18 (1935) [18:19]
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Ulf Schirmer
rec. 1-2, 4-6 December 2008, Studio 1, Bayerischen Rundfunk, München
CPO 777 567-2 SACD [68:34]
Wolf-Ferrari is best known for his fifteen or so operas, although none can be said to be in the regular repertoire. His purely orchestral music, as opposed to the frequently recorded orchestral operatic extracts, is even more rarely encountered. This disc makes it clear that this is a loss, as each of the works here has real individuality and craftsmanship. Their titles would seem to suggest that they are light pieces in the style of many of his best known operatic extracts. The reality is that they are all very obviously the products of their date - 1936-7 and place - Germany and Italy. I know little of his political views at that time although his acute distress during the First World War is well known and unsurprising given his Bavarian father and Venetian mother.
The title of the second movement of the triptych (Triptychon) is Den toten Helden (The dead Heroes) but neither it nor the other movements is remotely triumphant. The first movement is made up of a kind of mysterious gestures and counterpoint, sounding at times like Busoni, and the third (Adagio) features a violin soloist (Henry Raudales). As a whole this is a quietly and unexpectedly impressive work, and the disc would be worth having for it alone.
The other works are in fact no less interesting, especially the Arabesken, a set of variations on a theme by the painter and occasional composer Ettore Tito. Although as always with Wolf-Ferrari everything is immaculately written and scored in an idiom which is far from revolutionary, there is never any question of dullness or routine. The remaining pieces are more serious in content than their titles might suggest. It is clear from all of the works here that Wolf-Ferrari was a composer of great originality working within a style which was apparently very conventional, even old-fashioned, for its time. There is something in common with the later works of Richard Strauss or Saint-Saëns in the music’s ripely mature tone and often regretful undertone.
It would be easy to overlook this disc. Four little-known short(-ish) orchestral works by a composer often regarded as being lightweight or even second-rank might seem a dull proposition. In fact they are varied and interesting as well as well-played and recorded. Wolf-Ferrari’s later works are surely ripe for re-evaluation (review) and this disc provides a good opportunity to start it.
John Sheppard
Wolf-Ferrari’s later works are surely ripe for re-evaluation. Music that is good, varied and interesting as well as well-played and recorded.