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Alfredo CASELLA (1883-1947)
Orchestral Works - Vol. 3
Italia, Op. 11 (1909) [19:39]
Introduzione, Corale e Marcia, Op. 57 (1931/35) [7:41]
Sinfonia (Symphony No. 3), Op. 63 (1939/40) [41:55]
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. 28 June 2012 (Op. 11), 6-7 November 2012 (Opp. 11, 63), MediaCity, Salford, UK
CHANDOS CHAN 10768 [69:37]

Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic have reached the third volume in their survey of Casella’s orchestral works. Former chief conductor, now its conductor laureate, he knows the BBC Phil inside out and his earlier recordings in the series: volumes one (CHAN 10605) and two (CHAN 10712) have been highly impressive contributions to the Casella catalogue. 

The feature work on this release is the Sinfonia or Symphony No. 3. I was at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester concert in November 2012 when Noseda conducted this work just a few days before taking the orchestra into the recording studio to make this recording. My impressions now are virtually the same as those at the concert with Casella’s red-blooded late-Romanticism faithfully captured. Taking just over forty minutes to perform, this four-movement work is scored for a large orchestra including five percussionists, together with a thirteen-strong brass section. A product of the early years of the Second World War, this calamitous period in world history must have borne down on Casella’s writing. Making a strong emotional impact, the symphony is predominantly affirmative in character but it comes as no surprise that the music is variegated with shadowy and disturbing undercurrents. Various sources relate similarities between this work to the music of Mahler; however, I was persistently hearing Shostakovich, especially his Fifth Symphony, which was written a couple of years earlier, in 1937. I could also hear the influence of Casella’s fellow countryman and close contemporary, Respighi and also suggestions of Hindemith. Right from the very first pages it was clear that everyone relishes both this music and the opportunity of recording this impressive score. Under a firm grip in the Andante one could easily imagine a Shostakovich-like picture of wintry, barren landscapes laid to waste. At times there were episodes that felt meltingly beautiful even if an undertow of desolation was never far away. In the mocking, often grotesque Scherzo a forceful militaristic character of terror and fury is fused with a cool, stark beauty. Noseda showed his mettle in the Finale, contrasting angry martial music with amiable episodes of calm that could easily have depicted verdant countryside. The forward momentum is marvellously sustained. All hell breaks loose in the final section, which surges to a declamatory conclusion. On the one hand it feels jubilant and on the other uncomfortably ferocious. Like the Bridgewater concert, passions were never allowed to dwindle in a performance that packs quite a punch.
Casella was passionately patriotic and his early Symphonic Rhapsody Italia from 1909 is typical capturing a wide spectrum of the sights and sounds of his country and employing Sicilian and Neapolitan folk melodies. A substantial score lasting nearly twenty minutes this recording indexes it into four tracks. The opening section is generally ebullient and extremely forceful followed by a contrasting episode for cor anglais and tolling bell. I also enjoyed the section featuring a deeply expressive part for clarinet. Infused with unruly merriment the final section features the Luigi Denza tune to the ever-popular Neapolitan song Funiculì, Funiculà

Composed in 1931/35, the Introduzione, Corale e Marcia, Op. 57 is presented here in three short sections. It seems that the score is receiving its first recording. For a combination of woodwind, brass, timpani, percussion, piano and double basses the work owes a debt to Stravinsky’s neo-classical style. Opening with a furious outburst the writing maintains a strong martial feel. Overall I was reminded of a war film score in the manner of Ron Goodwin or Dmitri Tiomkin. A central episode of relative calm with a sense of expectancy is followed by a brass-dominated, upbeat and rhythmic conclusion.
The BBC Philharmonic is an outstanding orchestra who maintain excellent form throughout. Their playing of these multicoloured works is ideal. I love the way they can easily generate thrusting intensity then seamlessly shift to episodes of tender serenity. Noseda’s stunning interpretation of the Symphonymakes a splendid case for this marvellous work that deserves to be a regular feature on concert programmes. Beautiful played and recorded at the MediaCity studios this Chandos release has considerable clarity with plenty of atmosphere.
Michael Cookson