Ildebrando PIZZETTI (1880-1968)
Violin Sonata in A major (1918-19) [29:59]
Tre canti (1924) [12:08]
Sonata quasi una fantasia, Op.56 (1929) [17:41]
Tre vocalizzi, Op.55 (1928) arr. violin and piano (1930) by Mario Corti [8:44]
Hagai Shaham (violin)
Arnon Erez (piano)
rec. June 2010, Jerusalem Music Centre
HYPERION CDA67869 [68:34]
Quite to what extent one should consider Pizzetti's Violin Sonata a 'war work' - in the sense that John Ireland's Second Violin Sonata can be so described - is a matter for debate. Nevertheless it was composed as the First War was drawing to a close, having been started in September 1918 and completed the following year. Though he wasn't an operatic composer Pizzetti drew on elements of vocalisation in his chamber music, and this gives the music a singing component that is very appealing. In fact what's interesting about Pizzetti's sonata is not just its place in Italian chamber music per se, but its subsequent neglect by generations of fiddlers. For many years its only recording was the one made by Yehudi Menuhin on a 78 set, which seems very strange. More recently other duos have taken it up - Leila Rásonyi and Alpalan Ertűngealp on Naxos being probably the most widely available, adding the Tre Canti and the Piano Trio. It's not a disc I've heard. Elmar Oliveira and Robert Koenig couple it with the Respighi on Artek.

The torrid start to the work, which Hagai Shaham emphasises by tightening his vibrato to an almost uncomfortable degree of intensity, serves notice of a strongly characterised performance. He coils and colours his tone ceaselessly and there is, certainly in the first movement, a lot of seemingly divisive writing between the two instruments. Arnon Erez is himself a powerful chamber player and well attuned by now to Shaham's playing and neither player draws back from this element of the work. Maybe Ezra Pound, whose 1920 review of a performance is quoted by Nigel Simeone in the booklet notes, was alluding to this when he wrote that Pizzetti 'has hardly discovered a unified musical dialect' - though to preface that insight with the lines; 'Here he has joined piano and violin so that the combination is not annoying' rather undermines his critical acumen. Pound's reviews are fascinating, by the way, and were reprinted by Faber a number of years ago. It's a shame the slow movement didn't retain Pound's attention, in his words, because it's rather beautiful. Maybe the performers Kathleen Parlow and Charlton Keith didn't do it justice, or - more likely - Pound was unsympathetic to the conversational lyricism embedded in its songfulness. The finale is dance-based and high-spirited and confidently banishing all care.

Another work that tends to be overlooked is the Tre Canti of 1924, though Nathan Milstein used to play the first of the set a lot and indeed recorded it. Much less intense than the sonata, they reveal Pizzetti's abundant lyrical charm and, in the last of the three, the opportunities given for the pianist to sizzle.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco was one of Pizzetti's pupils and wrote his Sonata quasi una fantasia in 1929, dedicating it to Adila Fachiri, dedicatee of Bartók's violin sonatas and sister of Jelly d'Aranyi. Simeone has dug out a contemporary review of the work in the journal Modern Music which denigrates it in a merciless way. What it needed at the time was for Heifetz to play and record it, as he did a number of the composer's other pieces, including the later concertos and genre pieces - there are at least six surviving performances of Sea Murmurs for a start. That would have got it noticed. And in point of fact the work is constructed with great concision and care, the balance between the fiddle and the chordally propulsive piano generating plenty of interest. How dextrously the composer picks up the end of the first movement at the beginning of the second - for a droll Intermezzo, full of wit. The finale features the violin singing warmly, the piano turning serious-minded, and an air of calm, dignified resolution settling over the music. Originally written as a vocalise with piano accompaniment it was violinist Mario Corti who arranged the Tre vocalizzi (1928) for violin and piano in 1930. The first two work delightfully well, with delicate echo effects, limpid hints of Szymanowski, an impressive range of colour, and effective use of lament and fancy. And then, in a twist, the final piece turns out to be a Fox Trot and for a moment we might almost be in a Parisian club with Martinů or Schulhoff.

The performances are terrifically atmospheric and full of colour and verve. And with a fine recording and booklet notes, you are in the safest of hands here.

Jonathan Woolf

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