Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 46 (1927) [29:12]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, Op. 92 (1936/37) [31:15]
Four Dances from Love’s Labour’s Lost, Op. 167 (1953) [16:16]
Alessandro Marangoni (piano)
Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Mogrelia
rec. Concert Hall of the Malmö Symphony Orchestra, Malmö, Sweden, 23-27 May 2011
NAXOS 8.572823 [76:43]
The Naxos 20th Century Italian Classics series stutters on and Castelnuovo-Tedesco is featured now for the third time. His Shakespeare obsession does not retreat. There are two volumes available of his Shakespeare Overtures (8.572500 and 8.572501). In fact I reviewed one of them in February 2011. There are also two Shakespeare operas including All’s Well that Ends Well not to mention 35 sonnets and all of the available poems.
While the major works here are the two piano concertos the charming Four Dances from Love’s Labour’s Lost immediately took my fancy. This recording also constitutes their first performance. Conductor Alessandro Marangoni who has also written briefly about this in the booklet notes has resuscitated the score. There are four movements, which certainly make no attempt to be quasi-Elizabethan, you may be glad to hear. It’s something which English composers often did, normally sending us off into the embarrassed corner. We do have a Sarabande and a Gavotte for each of the King of Navarre and the Princess of France. There is also a Spanish Dance for the comical Don Adriano: witty music but not quite capturing the full benefit of his character. Finally there’s a jaunty Russian Dance for the Masque, which is the comical climax to the play in Act V. It’s wonderful that this colourful score has been dug up. I for one, especially enjoyed it.
I would like to describe the Piano Concerto No. 1 as gay but I have a feeling that although it describes perfectly this happy work I should use the word jaunty. It is in three movements and both of the outer ones are full of bravura, excitable rhythms and colourful orchestration. The third is something approaching a tarantella at times. The nicely detailed booklet notes by Graham Woods talk of “good-humoured vigour” which is much better than my words but there are also lyrical tendencies. There’s a lovely cello solo in the first movement and in the central section of the third. The movement that really caught my fancy was the middle Andantino alla Romanza. The opening tune is almost folk-like, a sort of Mediterranean version of a Rachmaninov romantic melody found in his last two concertos. Whereas the Russian tends towards dark passion Castelnuovo-Tedesco is more song-like, simple and sunlit. I was delighted to make the acquaintance of this work although for 1927 it must have seemed a little anachronistic. The performance is all you might want and the recording excellent and immediate.
I’m sorry to say that I haven’t particularly taken to the Piano Concerto No. 2. On the other hand, it may not be exactly the work that the composer intended. It seems that the plates and the original materials were lost in the Florence floods of 1966 but a score of sorts had been placed in America. Even so, some reconstruction has proven necessary. This has been done by Marangoni who says in his brief note that he wishes to thank the “composer’s daughter for loaning me the manuscript”.
The work is in three movements with a Romanza second. The opening seems to come out of rather weak Tchaikovsky. The whole movement feels over-indulgent in its out-dated romanticism. The second subject, when played by the piano, will remind you of Rachmaninov in Mediterranean mood. The Romanza lurches around and has little character. It’s not until the finale, Vivo e impetuoso, that something genuinely personal seems to emerge. It spins interestingly out of the Romanza and skips along à la Litolff. The piano is, throughout, more integrated with the orchestra than in the First Concerto although there is a fine cadenza. It may be that I am being a bit harsh or that I am out of sorts with this piece however I do like the finale. All that said, I’m not at all sure that if I shall return to it that often.
More sympathetically I must add that the Swedish orchestra play as if they have been familiar with this music for years. They are aided by Marangoni’s scholarship to say nothing of the background work and enthusiasm of Andrew Mogrelia. The recording is good standard Naxos house-sound. If you fancy piano concerto by-ways then at Naxos prices you can’t go far wrong.
Gary Higginson 
If you fancy piano concerto by-ways then at Naxos prices you can’t go far wrong with this disc.