RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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.
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.