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Nino ROTA (1911-1979)
A Sentimental Devil - Complete Works for Violin and Viola
Improvviso in C, 'Un Diavolo Sentimentale', for violin and piano [5:17]
Sonata in G, for violin and piano (1937) [14:50]
Intermezzo in B minor, for viola and piano (1945) [8:07]
Improvviso in D minor, for violin and piano (from: 'Amanti senza Amore') (1948) [3:53]
Sonata no.2 in C, for viola and piano (1945) [15:42]
The Legend of the Glass Mountain [4:33]
Sonata no.1 in G, for viola and piano (1934-35/1970) [9:50]
Francesco D'Orazio (violin and viola)
Giampaolo Nuti (piano)
rec. Teatro Curci, Barletta, Apulia, Italy, 29-31 May 2012.
Opere per Viola e Pianoforte
Sonata no.1 in G, for viola and piano (1934-35/1970) [12:44]
Sonata no.2 in C, for viola and piano (1945) [15:37]
Intermezzo in B minor, for viola and piano (1945) [8:46]
Lino LIVIABELLA (1902-1964)
First Sonata, for viola and piano (1950) [10:31]
Second Sonata, for viola and piano (1957) [20:04]
Luca Sanzò (viola)
Maurizio Paciariello (piano)
rec. Church of S. Terenziano, Capranica-Viterbo, Italy, August 2011.
TACTUS TC901101 [67:33]
Improvviso, 'Un Diavolo Sentimentale', for violin and piano [6:03]
Sonata in G, for violin and piano (1937) [15:28]
Intermezzo in B minor, for viola and piano (1945) [8:16]
Sonata no.1 in G, for viola and piano (1934-35/1970) [13:53]
Sonata no.2 in C, for viola and piano (1945) [15:58]
Luigi Alberto Bianchi (violin, viola)
Marco Vincenzi (piano)
rec. Dynamic's, Genova, Italy, 22-23 December 1997 and 17-18 May 1998.
DYNAMIC CDS211 [59:38]
Complete Music for Viola and Piano, Complete Music for Violin and Piano
Intermezzo in B minor, for viola and piano (1945) [8:57]
Sonata no.2 in C, for viola and piano (1945) [16:39]
Sonata no.1 in G, for viola and piano (1934-35/1970) [12:26]
Sonata in G, for violin and piano (1937) [15:41]
Improvviso, 'Un Diavolo Sentimentale', for violin and piano [5:51]
Improvviso, for violin and piano (from: 'Amanti senza Amore') (1948) [4:10]
Marco Fornaciari (viola, violin)
Gabriele Baldocci (piano)
rec. Lonigo, Vicenza, Italy, April 2006.
ARTS 47718-8 [64:56]

In some respects there is too much Nino Rota on disc, primarily all the Fellini, Visconti, Coppola and other film scores he is best known for, whether original soundtracks or chopped into themes and suites by various hands. However, his art music - albeit he himself claimed to make no distinction - is also well represented by numerous recordings. All this attention makes Rota look like one of the 20th century's most significant composers - certainly among those of Italian provenance - which is misleading, if not cock-eyed.
On the other hand, the cult status of films like 'The Godfather', 'Amarcord' and '8½' lend Rota a cultural significance that few of his contemporaries can even begin to approach. In fact, Rota's significant body of non-film music is a meritorious cause: it is conventional yet sophisticated, accessible yet interesting, mellifluous yet profound. The recordings from four different labels - notably, all but one Italian - under consideration here all cover one small but significant corner of his corpus, the duos for violin or viola and piano.
The Stradivarius and Tactus discs are recent releases, whilst the Arts disc first came out in 2007, and Dynamic's premiere recordings back in 1998. As it happens, Dynamic have just reissued Rota's 'Chamber Music for Flute' (CDS172) as DM8033 in their somewhat random 'Delizie Musicali' series, so there is a possibility that the deleted CDS211 may also reappear soon with a new food-themed cover.
There are two Viola Sonatas and a Violin Sonata, an Intermezzo for viola and piano and two Improvvisos for violin and piano, one of which is borrowed from the film score 'Amanti senza amore' and the other subtitled 'Un Diavolo Sentimentale', giving Stradivarius what would otherwise be a patronising album title.
Additionally, the Stradivarius disc offers the 'Legend of the Glass Mountain' as a bonus, whilst Tactus, in place of the Violin Sonata and two Improvvisos, have the Viola Sonatas of Rota's slightly older, yet outside Italy virtually unknown contemporary, Lino Liviabella. Rota's title music for 'The Glass Mountain' (1949) has been the victim of some horrid arrangements over the years - Mantovani springs to mind - but in this one for violin and piano it is easy to disconnect the dramatic music from the melodramatic film. The two sonatas of Liviabella, who was a composition student of Respighi, are not unlike Rota's, being both exciting and expressive. His three violin sonatas are ripe for recording by one of these labels.
The Intermezzo in B minor is mournful, yearning, elegiac and gentle, apart from a highly agitated, virtuosic middle section. All four CDs understandably carry this beautiful work - four Italian violists, any of whose interpretation would satisfy likely any soul. The two Viola Sonatas also appear on every programme. All take the C major Second at about the same gentle pace, well judged for such a lyrically radiant, nostalgic work.
The First Sonata in G is a shorter, more translucent work, although the central adagio movement is still heartfelt and touching. D'Orazio races through it perhaps a little too fast to find favour with most listeners, whilst Bianchi's relative slowness is attributable in part to the fact that Rota rewrote part of the final movement at his request. Pianist Marco Vincenzi underlines the influence of neo-Classical Stravinsky here, rare in Rota's music - in general he is much more likely to connect with the Romantics.
As far as the violin works are concerned, the jaunty Improvviso subtitled 'A Sentimental Devil', along with the Sonata, is probably Rota's most-performed work in this area. D'Orazio again races, causing the feeling of 'sentimentality' to fly out the window. Fornaciari and Baldocci are better paced (if underwhelming), and the reverberant nature of their venue gives the whole a slightly surreal effect. Bianchi and Vincenzi take a freer approach that is more interesting, perhaps, though arguably a little tiring. Dynamic's label calls this work simply 'Improvviso' - perhaps they are unaware that the one from 'Amanti senza Amore' is legitimate material for inclusion. Said work sounds much more like an improvisation than 'A Sentimental Devil' does, oozing rhapsodic passion. The film itself was an adaptation of Tolstoy's 'Kreutzer Sonata' and Rota appropriately dotted Beethoven themes throughout the score.
As far as the Violin Sonata is concerned, D'Orazio and Nuti give a superbly expressive, persuasive account of a work that at times sounds quite British in its almost pastoral evocativeness. As with the Viola Sonatas, Rota packs so much unpretentious lyricism and feeling into a mere quarter of an hour that violinists have no excuse not to add this immediately to their stock-in-trade. Bianchi is impressive too, but always slightly undermined by a recessed piano and the confinement of his own instrument to the left channel.
Overall the Stradivarius recording, apart from having some of the worst cover artwork seen for a while, has almost everything going for it. Though on occasion almost precipitate, D'Orazio plays Rota with great style, elegantly supported by Giampaolo Nuti. Stradivarius's sound quality is the best of these four releases, clear and natural, although engineers have gone in close enough to pick up what seems like D'Orazio's every breath.
The Tactus disc is worth anyone's money for the two sonatas of Liviabella, although Luca Sanzò's account of Rota's three works for viola and piano is in most regards equal to, occasionally better than, D'Orazio's. The Tactus sound is similar to Dynamic's but with the stereo more satisfying. Bianchi's recording for Dynamic has plenty of merits of its own, but the audio issues effectively render it superseded. On Arts, Fornaciari is pretty good if somewhat low-key, Baldocci a little less convincing, but in any case Arts' engineering is the one that comes closest of the four to distortion and muddiness - proof that the 'SuperAudio' badge does not guarantee better quality. It is also more reverberant than is ideal.
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See also review of the Arts Music disc by Bob Briggs