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Goffredo PETRASSI (1904 - 2003)
Magnificat (1939/40)a [30:52]
Salmo IX (1934/6) [34:57]
Sabina Cvilak (soprano)a
Orchestra e Coro Teatro Regio Torino/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. Teatro Regio, Torino, Italy, 5-7 July 2012
CHANDOS CHAN 10750 [65:58]

Although it was never really absent from the catalogue, Petrassi's music has still to receive its proper due. Some of you may remember that a number of his works were recorded by Fonit Cetra and released on the Italia label during the LP era. These discs included the complete concertos for orchestra. These were later released as a CD boxed set (review) a few years ago whereas a new set was issued on Stradivarius which I have not heard so far. In the meantime Stradivarius also released a couple of CDs with works from different periods of Petrassi's long creative life. The latest Stradivarius instalment contains three comparatively early works as does this brand new Chandos disc. 

Petrassi's early music was clearly under the influence of Neo-classicism as well as of Stravinsky. This is to be heard fairly clearly at the outset of the large-scale Magnificat which overtly echoes Neo-classical and baroque models. However, the earliest work here is the quite impressive Salmo IX for mixed chorus, string orchestra, brass, percussion and two pianos. The music exudes a well-meant archaism that to a certain extent paves the way for what may be one of Petrassi's greatest works of that period, the powerful Coro di Morti. Salmo IX is laid-out in two parts of roughly the same length. The music moves forwards with a quite remarkable assurance and sense of purpose, full of virile choral and instrumental writing. Just listen to the very opening of the work and you will understand what I mean. There is no let-up of tension and the music builds to some imperious climaxes. Not a single note is wasted in this often opulent, bright-sounding work. For curiosity's sake there exists another version of this work: a live recording made in 1962 conducted by the composer. It was once available on Datum DAT 90001 which may no longer be available. It is nevertheless well worth looking for because the three works recorded are all conducted by Petrassi: Coro di Morti and Quattro Inni Sacri

Composed a few years later, the Magnificat for soprano, chorus and orchestra also displays a number of characteristics already noted in Salmo IX, especially the acknowledged influence of Stravinsky in his Neo-classical mode. Petrassi curiously mentions Oedipus Rex which is not a sacred work whereas the Symphony of Psalms would be a better model both for Salmo IX and the Magnificat. However, Petrassi is an Italian composer and, as such, does not hide his feelings behind some façade as Stravinsky did. He cannot help but feel involved in his settings of these liturgical texts and the Magnificat adds a further, almost operatic dimension, were it only in the use of a soprano leggero. The main difference between the Magnificat and Salmo IX lies in the fact that the former is set in a much more episodic manner and one at times misses a clearly defined line; this at the expense of a global approach to the text. This said, the Magnificat is a quite beautiful piece that deserves to be heard more often and that should appeal to anyone with a liking for, say, Poulenc's Gloria and Stabat Mater.  

With his exact contemporary Luigi Dallapiccola, Petrassi was an important personality in the history of Italian music in the 20th century. He was probably somewhat more eclectic than Dallapiccola who adopted dodecaphony quite early in his career whereas Petrassi rather toyed with it much later in his life. It is nice, then to see new recordings of their music being released over the last few years. Chandos has already done their share in releasing two Dallapiccola discs (Volume 1 ~ Volume 2) … so far. Now comes this superb release that usefully fills some gaps in Petrassi's discography. I keep my fingers crossed that more will be done for these significant composers whose music definitely deserves wider exposure. 

These performances are just superb and so is the recording. I most sincerely hope that this extremely welcome release will not remain a “one shot” and that further volumes will appear in due course.  

Hubert Culot