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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Antonio ILLERSBERG (1882-1953)
Violin Concerto in G major (1906-11) [40:00]
Laura Bartolotto (violin)
Orchestra Nuove Assonaze/Adriano Martinolli D’Arcy
rec. Chiesa di S. Maria dei Servi, Lucca
Sound: 24/96
ACHORD PICTURES DVD (no number) [40:00]

Here’s a very interesting addition to the audio-visual catalogue. It’s the Violin Concerto of Trieste-born Antonio Illersberg. Orphaned at a very young age, his musical talent enabled him to study in Bologna under Luigi Torchi and Giuseppe Martucci. A fellow student was Respighi. Several years of military service in the Austrian Navy followed until in 1907 he won academic tenure at the Conservatory Giuseppe Verdi in his home town. Here he taught a wide range of talented students, amongst whom Dallapiccola stands out prominently. His compositions seem not to be too numerous but include major works like the Symphony in B flat major (1914), and a large-scale opera called Tritico, staged in 1949.

The other major large-scale work is the work that has been recorded here, the Violin Concerto of 1906-11. Illersberg began it shortly before the academic appointment that he was to hold almost until the end of his life. For some reason the work remained unperformed until its belated premiere in 1951, two years before the composer’s death. The full score and parts are now missing so what is performed is a reconstruction by the conductor Adriano Martinolli D’Arcy based on the violin and piano reduction and details heard in a live 1953 RAI broadcast of the work’s second performance.

It’s a classically conceived piece in three movements opening with some virtuoso flourishes for the soloist and plenty of vigorous late-Romantic swagger and sensitivity. Illersberg writes attractive melodies and his wind writing is especially felicitous and this contributes to the tremendous drive and energy of the first movement. There’s a lied-like quality to the slow movement where some lightly drawn Mahlerian influence can perhaps be felt. The flighty finale, full of verve and renewed rich orchestral palette shows some kinship with his erstwhile fellow student, Respighi. Much of the solo sound world is orientated to the violin’s upper strings which vests a bright, silvery almost aquiline patina. To all these challenges the young soloist Laura Bartolotto responds with marvellous assurance, and on the rostrum she has the secure support of the conductor who reconstructed the work. The orchestral forces are not big but effective.

Sonically, the church acoustic remains a little swimmy and there’s no denying the rather homespun nature of the visual direction. There’s a very strange series of shots of the first desk cellists which has the effect of us watching them in slow-motion. There also some ‘block squares’ going down the screen – an editing blip I suppose. Elsewhere the camera work is serviceable and honest but it’s certainly not in the Brian Large league – and nor would it claim to be: this is a specialist undertaking.

There are two talks, in Italian, after the concerto has ended. From outside the church the conductor discusses the work and composer, and Gianluca La Villa does likewise in a domestic setting. It would have helped for these important little talks to be subtitled for a more international audience as they contain much of interest.

Illersberg is an almost unknown composer but his Concerto has been well served here and I hope it will be commercially recorded on CD before too long, and that the 1953 archive tape will be issued too.

Jonathan Woolf



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