I wonder how many friends Chandos have made for their 20th
century Italian music series: Casella, Dallapiccola, Petrassi and now
Castiglioni; possibly not that many. It's still a very significant
series that must be costing a considerable amount to put together.
I first came across Castiglioni on attending a BBC Prom concert about six
years ago; it was conducted by Oliver Knussen. Since then his music has
gradually grown in profile in the UK (review
). He has been through the stylistic mill
and in the late 1960s gave up on Italy and worked in America. A work like
of 1959 demonstrates his Darmstadt influences. But he
re-thought his musical language and for a decade or so produced music that
was utterly original. Quite clearly he had found himself. He died all too
The first piece on the disc is the longest and it might be best to leave
it till last. First ‘acclimatise’ yourself to the composer’s sound-world and
then give yourself quite a shock because La Buranella
suite of seven movements, all transcriptions of sonata movements from
keyboard works by Baldassarre Galuppi (1706-1785). Perhaps, like me you have
taken the ‘vaporetto’ from Venice’s St. Mark’s quay, headed across the bay
for the island of Burano and purchased your obligatory piece of glassware.
Well, Galuppi was born there. Castiglioni has enjoyed this music since its
publication in 1974 and the pieces are orchestrated in homage to the older
master. They are cleverly and colourfully orchestrated in the tradition of
Respighi’s The Birds
or Stravinsky’s Pulcinella
. Added to
the orchestra is a harpsichord, a harp, a xylophone and even tubular bells.
I suspect however that the inspiration is more taken from Webern’s
arrangement of Bach’s Fugue II
from The Musical Offering
in which the melodic line is broken up between instrumental colour strands
in a kind of ‘Klangfarbenmelodie’ as Carmelo Di Gennaro’s excellent booklet
notes tell us. I wonder if the composer knows Browning’s poem ‘A Toccata of
Galuppi’s’ with its lines:-
“What! Those lesser thirds so plaintive.
Sixths diminished, sigh on sigh …
Those syncopations -
Must we die”
Probably not. Castiglioni has chosen only cheerful and un-troubled
movements, which, with his marvellous orchestration makes for a work of
utter charm and delight.
I was much taken by the middle work on the disc. It is scored for
orchestra alone Altisonanza
(meaning high sounds).
It falls into three movements and lasts over twenty minutes. The opening
runs for more than nine minutes and is marked by a fecundity
of ideas which spark each other into action. The Sarabanda
brief respite in the centre of the work and shows again the
composer's partiality for older forms which he had started to utilise
mid-career. But this is twentieth century music, make no mistake.
Castiglioni’s interests include: Boulez and aleatoric techniques as in the
woodwind writing in movement one. There's a suggestion of bird-song
in movement three which points to Messiaen. Add to this the rhythmic
vitality in the third movement marked Perigordino
pointillism was also hinted at in the second movement yet the composer’s
total originality again shines through.
is the text beginning ‘The Heavens
declare the glory of the Lord”. Whilst listening I have felt that I have
never really heard anything quite like it. The scoring is surely unique:
chorus, orchestra and two stratospheric sopranos — a dangerous thing in
itself as I know from a birthday party
- one being a coloratura. The orchestra includes a harpsichord (again)
prominent against the two sopranos on their first entry. The chorus is often
pitted against the two soloists but they spit the text out in syncopated
monosyllables, sometimes speaking, sometimes singing cluster chords and
against punched harmonies from the orchestra. Sometimes the chorus writing
exposes the men only, sometimes the women. The fervent performance is also
truly extraordinary and compelling. The preparation that must have gone into
this is quite incalculable. Gianandrea Noseda, the motivating force behind
much of this Chandos series is clearly at his best here. The recording team,
much stretched by the composer’s demands, makes the whole thing work
So, a fascinating CD, texts and translations are given ... and clearly.
There are photographs of the composer and of the performers. The result is,
I now feel, that I would like to hear more Castiglioni, especially the
purely orchestral music. I notice that ‘Inverno in-ver’ of 1973 is available
on CD. That said, perhaps Chandos will soon treat us to another release in
this ever-growing and absorbing series.