Cristian CARRARA (b. 1977)
Mater, for string orchestra [7:56]
Face to Face, for violin and string orchestra [9:46]
Liber Mundi, for violin, soprano and orchestra [11:42]
Tales from underground, for orchestra [13:33]
A Peace Ouverture, for violin and orchestra [6:03]
East West Romance, for violin and orchestra [5:00]
Francesco d’Orazio (violin); Angela Nisi (soprano)
Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini/Mathieu Mantanus
rec. 20-23 September 2011, Parma, Italy
ARTS SACD 47759-8 [54:25]
The Italian composer Cristian Carrara is a neo-Romantic, his idiom resolutely tonal. For many that may mean unadventurous and those earnest titles may suggest a programme of sorts. I have no problems with that, but I do take issue with the booklet, the contents of which are especially important for new and unfamiliar repertoire. The very first sentence had me bristling: ‘For one century and maybe even longer we were subject to an intellectual dictatorship, which grounded on a manifesto that equaled complexity with seriousness.’
Sadly the rest is just as hopeless. I had to wonder why Arts would spend good money on a top-quality SACD only to harpoon the whole enterprise with such poorly translated liner-notes. This would be unacceptable in a super-budget issue, but it’s unforgivable in a premium-priced one.
Gripes aside, what’s the music like? Not terribly inspired I’m afraid, with more than a hint of Samuel Barber in the elegiac string writing of Mater. The piece is saved from terminal soupiness by a subtle pulse. Despite the paucity of invention the playing and recording are very good indeed, the Super Audio layer especially so.
I abandoned the notes after coming across the phrase ‘sacral music’, but I was able to divine that Face to Face is based on a ‘deeply philosophic’ [sic] passage from St. Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. Quite how the music is supposed to express this message isn’t clear. Yes, there’s a guiding gravitas here, but Francesco d’Orazio’s violin playing is devoid of animation or character. Musically the long orchestral lines might suggest Arvo Pärt and the chugging bass Henryk Górecki. The overwhelming impression is of a loop in which the same unremarkable ideas are paraded again and again.
The start of Liber Mundi is more encouraging. The plaintive violin passages are infused with a degree of melancholy; and what follows - with the exception of that soft, percussive beat - is vaguely Mahlerian. As for Angela Nisi’s vocalise it’s fine when it merges with the orchestra but when it soars it becomes steely; her gear changes are untidy as well. There’s some lovely woodwind writing, but it’s quickly subsumed by an intrusive bass drum and Ms Nisi’s dominant vocals. Try as I might I could not sense an evolving narrative - musical or otherwise. Despite a few mildly arresting passages the whole work strikes me as uneven and uninspired.
Regrettably the rest of this SACD is much the same and are those echoes of Respighi at the start of Tales from the underground? Perhaps, and even though the piece is a bit more engaging than anything I’ve heard thus far it lacks essential variety and vigour. Really, neo-Romanticism has never sounded so dull, the fertile source from which it springs so misappropriated. As for the Peace overture Utopia seems a very dull place indeed. As for the slow chug of East West Romance it’s simply tedious. The only hint of pleasure here is the fine, atmospheric recording. Whereas I might otherwise have grumbled at the short playing time - just 54 minutes - I must confess I was relieved when it was all over.
This disc reminds me of one I reviewed last year, of orchestral music by the American composer Gordon Getty. Despite the best efforts of Sir Neville Marriner and the ASMF that collection is just as charmless: a loose collection of tunes fashioned into pieces of absolutely no distinction at all. Yet PentaTone and Arts seem happy to issue these as SACDs. The money would surely have been better spent elsewhere.
Dull and dispiriting. The ludicrous booklet hits a bum note, too.  

Dan Morgan

Dull and dispiriting.