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Orchestral Works

String Quartets Vol 1



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Alfredo CASELLA (1883-1947)
Orchestral Works - Volume 1
Symphony no.2 in C minor, op.12 (1908-10) [49:20]
Scarlattiana - Divertimento su Musiche di Domenico Scarlatti, for piano and small orchestra, op.44 (1926) [27:24]
Martin Roscoe (piano)
BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. New Broadcasting House, Manchester, England, 12-13 January 2010 and 12 November 2009 (Scarlattiana).
CHANDOS CHAN 10605 [76:58] 

Orchestral Works - Volume 2
Concerto for orchestra, op.61 (1937) [26:55]
A Notte Alta - Poema Musicale, for piano and orchestra, op.30 (1917/1921) [19:53]
Symphonic Fragments from 'La Donna Serpente', op.50 (1932) [26:16]
Martin Roscoe (piano)
BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. MediaCity UK, Salford, England, 5 August (op.30) and 22-23 November 2011.
CHANDOS CHAN 10712 [73:26]

Orchestral Works - Volume 3

Italia - Rhapsody for orchestra, op.11 (1909) [19:39]
Introduction, Chorale and March, for woodwind, brass, timpani, percussion, piano and double basses, op.57 (1931-35) [7:41]
Symphony no.3, op.63 (1939-40) [41:45]
BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. MediaCity UK, Salford, England, 28 June (Italia) and 6-7 November 2012.
CHANDOS CHAN 10768 [69:35] 
By an unfortunate coincidence Chandos have found themselves playing catch-up to Naxos since the release of the first volume in this now three-strong series dedicated to the orchestral works of the criminally neglected Italian composer Alfredo Casella. Naxos's own cycle kicked off around the same time but already six CDs have been issued.
In any case, is Casella's music even worth two sets of recordings? Though the thinly disguised snootiness of a number of critics down the decades would appear to suggest otherwise, the answer is in fact a resounding yes: like his close and better-known contemporary Respighi, he was not only a master orchestrator/colouriser but a composer of considerable imagination and invention. His music is also extremely audience-friendly - a fact no doubt connected, ironically, to the ambivalence of certain writers, including even his biographer John Waterhouse. Under Gianandrea Noseda especially, the BBC Philharmonic is the finest orchestra to have recorded most of these works, and that is frankly no more than Casella deserves.
There is a work featuring the piano on all three discs, in the first two volumes with the sterling Martin Roscoe contributing a spotlit solo role. A Notte Alta is a hugely atmospheric and surprisingly modern-sounding work, Casella's only programmatic piece. It comes from a period when Casella was considered part of the vanguard, as absurd as the idea sounds in retrospect. Apparently based on a Verklärte-Nacht-style scenario, the two moonlit lovers turn out to be the composer himself and his wife-to-be Yvonne. Scarlattiana is rightly one of Casella's most popular works, said to draw upon, in the course of its 28 minutes, up to ninety of Domenico Scarlatti's highly varied sonatas. Many years later Casella returned to this idea for his Paganiniana op.65. 

Italia is ostensibly based on traditional Sicilian and Neapolitan tunes - fans of Mario Lanza, Luciano Pavarotti and the like should recognise one or two - but the first half of this atmospheric tone poem is by turn dark and serene, reflecting the Sicilian subject matter. The big tunes arrive from Naples about halfway through, building up for a typically exuberant finish. Italia is followed by the brief but engaging, Stravinsky-recalling Introduction, Chorale and March. The Concerto for Orchestra is also vaguely neo-classical, certainly of a lighter, at times almost filmic character. The Symphonic Fragments from 'La Donna Serpente' is a much better work than its title suggests, a carefully connected, coherent suite of generally lively music from Casella's only full-blown opera. Though he did in fact follow the Italian tradition and compose for the stage, the fundamentally symphonic nature of this suite reveals where the composer's true affinities lay. 

The three symphonies are arguably Casella's most important works, as their substantial proportions hint. The First, no less extended than those featured here, is doubtless reserved for volume 4. The Naxos series has already pipped Chandos to the premiere (8.572413 - see review). The brilliance and power of the Second, underlined by the Tchaikovsky's 'Manfred'-like appearance of the organ in the 'Epilogue', is awe-inspiring. It may seem like damning with faint praise, given the relative lack of competitors, but this work is surely one of the greatest symphonies ever to have come out of Italy. Though revealing the influence of both Tchaikovsky and even more so Mahler, it has a more compelling claim on a place in the symphonic repertoire than one or two of those composers' relatively weaker works. Noseda takes a noticeably punchier pace than Francesco La Vecchia on the Naxos recording (8.572415 - see review), and this only adds to the musical intensity. The Third is hardly less compelling, its wartime provenance giving it a times an acidulent Shostakovichian character. In his notes Gerald Larner interprets the ending as a triumphal salute to the Mussolini regime, although with a Jewish wife Casella was surely never that enthusiastic about the dictatorship. The first recording of this came, incidentally, from CPO in 2009, Alun Francis conducting the WDR Symphony Orchestra (777 265-2 - see review).
In cultural terms BBC Radio 3 may be - is - a shadow of its former self nowadays, but it still has engineers who know how to record music properly, and these three discs, one recorded at New Broadcasting House in Manchester, the latter two at MediaCity UK in Salford, rank among Chandos's finest orchestral achievements of recent times. The label's trilingual notes are as informative and well written as ever. Curiously, the latest volume reverts to the incredible wastage that comes from ludicrously oversized margins - the first two booklets were completely orthodox.
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See also reviews of Volume 1 by Dan Morgan, Volume 2 by David McConnell and Ian Lace & Volume 3 by Michael Cookson