“God moves in mysterious ways” and so do recording companies. After all, for many long years they did not pay much attention to Petrassi. Then all of a sudden they start recording it. I will not complain for Petrassi is an important figure who with his exact contemporary Luigi Dallapiccola may be regarded as the forefather of contemporary music in Italy. So there is real reason to rejoice in witnessing a Petrassi revival.
While looking through my record shelves I noticed that this is actually the third recording of the Flute Concerto and the second by the present soloist Mario Ancilotti. He recorded it several years ago along with the complete output for flute: Koch 315242H1 possibly no longer available but well worth looking for. The third recording is by Giampaolo Pretto on Stradivarius STR 33552.
This concerto belongs among the first important works of Petrassi's maturity and was composed for the renowned flautist and arch-champion of modern music Severino Gazzelloni. Both Ancillotti and Pretto perfectly meet all the technical requirements of the music as well as displaying a complete sympathy for the score. Although it is far from easy, the music does not really call for the sort of 'flute gimmicks' all-too-often heard in modern music. The soloist is present practically from first to last in what is a large-scale accompanied cadenza in which the he freely sings over a subtle orchestral web in which a hugely varied percussion section is used with remarkable imagination. The music also makes use of so-called organized sections and of “free” ones. It gives a remarkable impression of seamlessness and fluidity. Technical matters, however, never contradict the poetical content. Petrassi's Flute Concerto is a really fine work and one cannot but wonder why it is so rarely heard in concert.
The Piano Concerto is a considerably earlier work composed during what may be referred to as the Neo-classical period that also produced his Partita (1932) and First Concerto for Orchestra as well as the very fine Magnificat (1939/40) and the magnificent Salmo IX (1934/6). It is certainly not surprising to spot a number of influences on the young composer's music such as Prokofiev, Poulenc and Stravinsky among others. It is a fine piece in its own right even if the composer rather quickly lost interest in it. Petrassi actually composed very little for piano and his output for the instrument does not include any substantial work such as a sonata or anything of the that sort. There is no particular reason, however, to dismiss it as a by-product since Petrassi kept the work in his catalogue. It may at times be a bit rambling and would have gained from being a tad shorter but it is still highly enjoyable and, as such, deserves to be heard. Bruno Canino is well known enough as a committed interpreter of contemporary music to warrant an excellent performance of Petrassi's Piano Concerto and that is what we get.
The ballet suite from La follia di Orlando, too, has been recorded recently (Stradivarius STR 33824). This work belongs to the same period as the Piano Concerto and it also displays many Neo-classical characteristics. It is superbly scored and very colourful; another very enjoyable work from Petrassi's early years. The ballet includes a vocal part for baritone acting as a narrator who sings his lines at the start of each scene. The suite dispenses with the vocal part but follows the story line in a somewhat more concentrated way.
Francesco La Vecchia, his Roman orchestra and Naxos have already put us much in their debt for their whole-hearted exploration of the byways of Italian music although I would not really call Petrassi a byway. They play all these works with much commitment and obvious enjoyment. Comparing these performances with the others I have calls just for one remark. The timings of each piece is somewhat longer than any rival version - most of the time by one minute - although you never feel that they are dragging. This is in no way a drawback. I must mention – on the clearly positive side – that the quality of the recording that is less “aggressive” or close than the sound of the Stradivarius recording of the piano concerto and the ballet suite.
In short this is a very fine release on all counts and an excellent follow-up to the Naxos/La Vecchia Petrassi disc (8.572411 - review). I hope that they will continue what might become a Petrassi series with, why not? a new recording of the concertos for orchestra. In the meantime this is a disc to cherish and no admirer of Petrassi's music will want to be without it.