Alfredo CASELLA (1883-1947)
Suite in C major, Op. 13 (1909-1910) [26:16]
Pagine di guerra, Op. 25bis (version for orchestra, 1915, 1918) [11:00]
Concerto for Orchestra, Op. 61 (1937) [32:42]
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma/Francesco La Vecchia
rec. 15-18 June and 11-15 July 2011, ORS Studios, Rome (Pagine. Concerto); 16-17 October 2011, Auditorium di Via Conciliazione, Rome (Suite)
Detailed track list at end of review
NAXOS 8.573004 [69:58]
The earlier instalments in this most enterprising series are a total success; Francesco La Vecchia and the Rome orchestra’s recording of Casella’s First Symphony alerted me to the charms of this neglected composer (review), while the Second confirmed Naxos’s gamble had paid off (review). Not to be outdone Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic have also recorded several Casella collections for Chandos; their version of the Second and Scarlattiana is very distinguished indeed (review). As for the prominent ‘World Premiere Recordings’ tag on this new release Naxos may have taped the Concerto for Orchestra just a few months before Chandos, but the latter’s recording of the piece was released first (review). The Third Symphony has been recorded by Alun Francis (CPO) and La Vecchia (Naxos).
Nit-picking aside, La Vecchia’s Suite and Pagine are indeed the first on record. Much has been written about the influence of Mahler on Casella’s early style, and the Suite certainly confirms such a link exists. As David Gallagher points out in his liner-notes, Casella had just arranged the Paris premiere of Mahler’s Resurrection, so it’s hardly surprising to hear echoes of the latter’s soundworld in this contemporaneous suite. In that sense the nomenclature of the piece is a trifle misleading, for these rumbustious tunes bear scant resemblance to the archaic forms on which they’re based.
The start of the Overture is a thinly disguised mélange of Mahler and Richard Strauss, which soon morphs into a gaudy - and resolutely Italian - free-for-all. These Romans certainly make the most of those dancing rhythms, annunciating fanfares and sizzling cymbals. The Sarabande is more sedate - grave, even - and it boasts lovely tunes that float free of the orchestra in a quite magical way. Happily the recording combines transient tizz and tingle with compensating warmth and weight; this ensures Casella’s darker, more sonorous writing is also well caught. The boisterous Bourrée brings to mind the high spirits of Mahler’s Fourth, whose wide-eyed innocence is soon lost in a blaze of festal energy.
This music is an audacious mix that really demands an all-or-nothing approach from conductor, orchestra and recording engineers; and that’s exactly what it gets. Pagine di guerra - inspired by newsreels of the Great War - is even more visceral; and while the original images were conveyed in flickering monochrome Casella’s are delivered in extra vivid Technicolor. The relentless pounding of German artillery and a Cossack cavalry charge will rattle your window-panes; the human cost is counted in a poignant lament for Rheims Cathedral and an endless panorama of a field crammed with wooden crosses. In any other context this piece would be condemned as an amalgam of sheer bombast and crude sentimentality; that it works so well here is a tribute to La Vecchia’s judicious balancing of raw pictorialism and real feeling.
The Concerto for Orchestra, dedicated to the Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg, is the most substantial work here. It’s also a summation of Casella’s progress to date; in the highly animated Sinfonia various parts of the orchestra are allowed to shine, those see-sawing string figures reminiscent of Shostakovich at times. That said, there’s a boldness - an ease of invention if you like - to Casella’s writing that confirms he’s mastered his craft; the Passacaglia, artfully worked, is not as dry as one might expect, and the finale takes us on a thrilling ride. Chandos may offer the better recording and more polished playing, but La Vecchia and his band are every bit as engaged - and engaging - in this strange, delightfully dishevelled work.
Music of unbridled energy, a big, sense-sating sound and unusually detailed liner-notes add up to a most desirable package. In short, Naxos have given us another cracker - and it’s not even Christmas!
Great fun; buy now and beat the rush.
Dan Morgan  

Great fun; buy now and beat the rush.
Detailed track list
Suite in C major, Op. 13 (1909-1910)
Ouverture [8:05]
Sarabande [11:30]
Bourrée [6:41]
Pagine di guerra, Op. 25bis (version for orchestra, 1915, 1918)
Nel Belgio: sfilata di artiglieria pesante tedesca [2:05]
In Francia: Davanti alle rovine della cattedrale di Reims [2:24]
In Russia: Carica di cavalleria cosacca [1:17]
In Alsazia: Croci di legno [2:51]
Nell'Adriatico: Corazzate italiane in crociera [2:23]
Concerto for Orchestra, Op. 61 (1937)
Sinfonia [10:08]
Passacaglia [15:02]
Inno [7:32]