Giorgio Federico Ghedini is not often encountered today even in Italy. This adds to the difficulty of assessing a figure who occupied a substantially isolated position compared with Malipiero, Casella and Pizzetti, born the previous decade, and Dallapiccola and Petrassi, born the next. My abiding impression of him, based on very few works, is of ominous, almost devastating periods of calm in which tension nevertheless screws up almost unbearably. Sometimes the storm breaks but at least as often one is left wondering what, if anything, has actually happened. A particular obsession of his was Melville’s “Moby Dick”, and the “Albatross Concerto”, with a part for speaker towards the end, is a strangely haunting piece.
Though these are Italian Radio recordings, the source is not RAI itself but LPs issued in America in 1953-4 by the Colosseum label. They are stated to be the only known surviving recordings of Ghedini conducting his own music. Ghedini was known as an excellent conductor, not only of his own music, so it seems strange that RAI, whose archives hold several major recordings of Pizzetti and Petrassi conducting their own music, should have nothing else. But I must say I have never heard any such recordings re-broadcast. Historic RAI recordings of Ghedini are certainly not lacking. Just sticking to those I’ve heard, there’s the Pezzo Concertante
under Cantelli, a Ghedini pupil (Venice, 1954), Contrappunti
under Celibidache (Milan, 1968) and the Musica da Concerto
under Luciano Berio, another pupil. As well as plenty of items conducted by RAI stalwarts of former years, such as the Concerto dell’Albatro
under Ettore Gracis and the Partita
under Mario Rossi.
I thought I had a tape of the double cello concerto, “The Elm Grove”, but maybe I threw it away. I remembered it as a doleful, meandering piece. This probably just goes to show that, in the wrong hands, this sort of music can fall completely flat. Here, with the composer at the helm, the tension never lets up, though the few shattering climaxes – in the first movement especially – are more hinted at than realized in this elderly recording. The sound is more than acceptable, I should add, in the quieter passages, by far the majority. David Gallagher’s notes describe the long slow movement as Mahlerian. Yes, I can see this as an extension of where Mahler was going in the Adagio of the Tenth Symphony. Also, perhaps of where Sibelius might have arrived if he had continued the path of the Fourth Symphony in a post-holocaust world. The epilogue to Vaughan Williams’ Sixth Symphony is relatively cosy compared with Ghedini’s bleak landscape. Not comforting listening, then, but Ghedini’s disquieting vision is not easily set aside.
Litanie alla Vergine
was the work that put Ghedini on the map, at the relatively late age of 35. He himself described it as “enchanting …. So transparent, pure and bright”. This is certainly so if you compare it with L’Olmoneta
, and indeed it has some of the radiance you might expect from a setting of these words by Respighi. But expressed in a more acerbic harmonic language and with a sort of dark passionate fervour underlying the purity and brightness referred to by the composer. The tendency of Italian choirs to sing with a fairly full vibrato contributes to this effect. To English ears this sometimes seems woolly. It is, however, presumably what Ghedini expected, and implies an emotional commitment that a “purer” style of voice production might have lacked.
The Bach arrangement has some strikingly individual sounds. The overall effect is of a raw, somewhat unrefined energy. This may have been a cumulative effect of listening to over an hour of somewhat strident and shallow 1952 recording. Probably a new traversal would be in order, though whether today’s conductor would equal the fervent conviction of Ghedini’s final Ricercare à 6
has to be seen.
Historical, composer-led recordings are usually appreciated best when the music itself is known to modern audiences. Suppose Vaughan Williams’ own recording of his Fourth Symphony, white-hot though it is, was the only one we had? As it is, I fear this very interesting disc will mainly circulate among those already committed to the composer. Though L’Olmoneta
, at least, suggests that the case for further exploration is strong.