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Saverio MERCADANTE (1795-1870)
Omaggio a Bellini - Fantasia, for large orchestra (1860) [11:11]
Seconda Sinfonia Caratteristica Napoletana [9:29]
Gran Sinfonia, on themes from Rossini's Stabat Mater (1843) [13:10]
Clarinet Concerto no.2 in B flat, op.101 [16:46]
Garibaldi - Sinfonia for large orchestra (1861) [9:32]
Giammarco Casani (clarinet)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma/Francesco La Vecchia
rec. Auditorium Conciliazione, Rome, 3-4 June 2012; OSR Studio, Rome, 2 July 2012 (Garibaldi).
NAXOS 8.573035 [60:08]
 
Flute Concerto no.2 in E minor, op.57 (1814) [20:57]
Flute Concerto no.4 in G, op.57 (1816) [15:48]
Flute Concerto no.1 in E, op.49 (1813) [20:49]
Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä/Patrick Gallois (flute)
rec. Suolahti Hall, Jyväskylä, Finland, 18-22 December 2011.
NAXOS 8.572731 [57:34] 

These are Naxos's first two instrumental recordings of Saverio Mercadante, an Italian composer better known, like most of his 19th century compatriots, for his operatic works. Both CDs have been released almost concurrently.
 
The flute concerto programme replicates a Dynamic release that has been available for nearly 15 years, except that the latter is much more generous - a double-disc that includes two extra concertos and a Theme and Variations (CDS 446). Dynamic's recording was made by their stalwart flautist Mario Carbotta with I Solisti Aquilani. Carbotta benefits from a separate conductor, Vittorio Parisi, whereas Gallois arguably leaves himself with too much to concentrate on - Mercadante's are demanding scores for the flautist. On the other hand, the Dynamic issue remains expensive: for the same price, both the above Naxos discs could be had with change left over for another mid-price CD that compensates for the sub-hour running times.
 
There are other worthy recordings about, too - James Galway's account of three of the concertos has just been re-released in a cheap Sony Classics boxed set (8888 376784-2), whilst Marzio Conti on Arts (47584-2, review), Raffaele Trevisani on Delos (DE3372) and Jean-Pierre Rampal on Warner Apex (2564 61791-2, review) are all still readily available. This latter recording also includes the Gran Sinfonia on themes from Rossini's Stabat Mater, although Warner's typically thinnish sound knocks a few points off overall. In addition there are several discs that feature a single concerto.
 
Whichever recording tempts, Mercadante offers a series of well-crafted flute works, unsurprisingly based on the stylisations of bel canto opera, set within the fast-slow-fast structure typical of the era. Whilst the orchestrations on the whole can tend towards the mechanical, the aria-like middle movements are highly lyrical. The final movement of the E minor concerto is a favourite encore piece that many will recognise. Gallois gives a good account, the equal of Carbotta, of these fairly lung-busting scores, whilst the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä chip in in a very polished manner.
 
Mercadante's two clarinet concertos also crop up occasionally in anthologies. Giammarco Casani gives a warm, persuasive account of a sparkling work that often recalls Weber in its 'old-fashioned' lyricism and virtuosity. The remainder of Francesco La Vecchia's programme is purely orchestral. Here Mercadante's orchestrational imagination has noticeably improved - he was by now twenty to forty years older - and the works are much more Romantic-dramatic, as amply demonstrated by the opening bars of the Gran Sinfonia.
 
On the other hand, these are chiefly paraphrases of other composers' music, with big themes and arias pre-supplied, as it were. The finale 'Garibaldi' mini-symphony is based instead on a rousing patriotic hymn later made famous by Enrico Caruso, whereas the Characteristic Neapolitan Sinfonia obsesses on the tarantella, the famous folk dance. Borrowed or original, and allowing that Mercadante had commercial success in mind, these works are all memorably coloured and well shaped. The Garibaldi Sinfonia aptly sees the composer at his most stirringly catchy, all the while displaying almost Verdian innovation in the scoring. This is a work that would go down very well on almost any programme.
 
Mercadante's works are rendered even more attractive by the considerable skill and commitment of the Rome Symphony Orchestra under the expert guidance of La Vecchia, who has done so much over the years to promote Italian orchestral music. 

Audio quality is impressive on this all-Italian disc, although the orchestra is a little underlit for the Clarinet Concerto. Sound is on the lossy side on the Finnish/flute one. This latter recording suffers from a millisecond jerk right at the start of the first track, with a more serious blip halfway through the final movement of the same E minor Concerto, where someone momentarily turns down the master volume. 
Booklet notes for both CDs are informative and well written. In sum, whilst the flute disc is primarily for Gallois fans, La Vecchia's entertaining programme can expect to have, and merits, much wider currency.
 
Byzantion
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