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Raffaele CALACE (1863-1934)
Complete works for Mandolin and Guitar
Duo Zigiotti-Merlante (Sergio Zigiotti (mandolin); Fabiano Merlante (guitar)
rec. HR Studio - Quartiere, 2003
TACTUS TC860301 [62:09]

The long, productive period of activity of the Neapolitan musician Raffaele Calace, because of its timing, fell in an era of great social and political transformations. These had important consequences also on a cultural level. At the end of the Bourbon domination, while the most important Neapolitan theatres were beginning to have problems, a radical cultural renewal took place. This concentrated chiefly on a gradual increase of musical interest in instrumental production.

Calace received his musical education at the Conservatory of Naples, where he studied violin. He graduated in composition under the guidance of Paolo Serrao and Francesco Ancona. His musical activity was devoted above all to plucked string instruments, and he became a virtuoso performer and a composer of music for them. This CD presents us with his complete works for mandolin and guitar from the present day Calace Edition.

The Zigiotti-Merlante Duo was founded in 1996 to study and perform the extensive repertoire of music for mandolin and guitar. This includes nineteenth century works of the Italian and German schools and modern and contemporary music. They have been placed in and won many international competitions, such as in the mandolin and guitar category of the Concorso Internazionale Giacomo Sartori in Ala (Trento).

The music is attractive and catchy and never pretends to be anything more than tuneful entertainment. There are no hidden depths but there are plenty of high spirits and some spectacularly brilliant playing. It’s the sort of thing you hear in many a café or restaurant in Sorrento. Calace had a gift for writing a good tune. It’s a similar gift to that bestowed on the likes of Sarasate and Paganini. Unfortunately the combination of mandolin and guitar does become monotonous after a while. The guitar is really the secondary instrument, taking the role of accompanist. The mandolin is the soloist and is given the majority of the tunes and the virtuoso passages.

After a while the lack of dynamic range and limited timbre start to tire the ear despite the attractive melodies coming out of the instruments. The fast movements are the most successful. The slow melodies are musically less satisfying. Had they been performed on the violin they would have sounded much effective than they do here. The problem lies with the mandolin and its limited capabilities. When a note is played on the instrument the sound decays very quickly which makes legato playing impossible. To combat this, the mandolin player uses a tremolo technique whereby a note is repeated rapidly thus giving the illusion of a sustained note. However, it is just an illusion and despite the excellence of Sergio Zigiotti’s playing the ear cries out for a singing, sustained tone.

In summary, for most people this will be a disc to dip into and out of. Listening to more than a few minutes of what is admittedly melodious music is fairly hard going. The level of technical execution and musicianship by the duo is first class and mandolin players will probably love it. Indeed, for them it could well be a must-buy CD. The recording is bright, forward and intimate.

John Whitmore

Track listing
Danza Spagnola, Op. 105 [4:28]
Serenata malinconica, Op. 120 [4:17]
Polonese, Op. 36 [6:38]
Barcarola, Op. 20 [5:49]
Tarantella, Op. 18 [2:56]
VI Mazurka, Op. 141 [4:11]
Saltarello, Op. 79 [3:24]
Bolero, Op. 26 [3:11]
Rondň, Op. 127 [3:53]
II Bolero, Op. 161 [3:27]
L’ardimentosa (Mazurka), Op. 57 [4:38]
Les Maries (Gavotta), Op. 123 [2:26]
Album [di] ballabili, Op. 13: Primo Premio (Valzer) [1:42]
Papillons (Polka) [2:51]
Jeunesse (Mazurka) [2:17]
Gaieté (Mazurka) [3:07]
Marcia Letizia, Op. 184 [2:44]