Polibio FUMAGALLI (1830-1900)
Ascetica Musicale Op. 235 (1878) [68:14]
Sonata in D [19:07]
Capriccio alla sonata [7:29]
Tempo di sonata-Breve fantasia [6:59]
Sonata in B-flat Op. 253 (1879) [18:25]
Emulazione [4:08]
Ripieno [3:01]
Scherzino [1:51]
Marcia villereccia [3:57]
Marco Ruggeri (organ)
rec. August 2014/October 2015, Parish Church of S. Nicolň, Vaprio d’Adda, Italy.
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95468 [2CDs: 68:14 + 64:53]

The first sentence of the booklet notes to this release admits that "for many decades the name of Polibio Fumagalli was shrouded in a thick fog of oblivion." Such figures are like a flame to moth-like review writers, and as we read on we discover more about the very musical Fumagalli family, which included concert pianists and composers, the best known of which being Adolfo who was highly regarded by Liszt but only lived to the age of 28.

Polibio started out as a composer and flute player, but later became an organist in Milan, becoming a teacher at the Conservatoire there and a central figure in the Italian organ world almost by accident, influencing organ design and the style of music being composed for the innovations that came about in his time.

Dating from the 1870s, the Ascetica Musicale, presented complete on CD 1, is a fine collection of 'characteristic' pieces that descend from the tradition of creating entertaining versions of famous pieces by composers such as Verdi. These pieces go further than that in terms of originality however, but their entirely secular intent results in some real fun for the 'orchestral' organ, sometimes in the nature of French counterparts such as Lefébure-Wély. Hints of Rossini pop up in a rousing Salve, and jaunty tunes such as Aspirazione and complex, narrative-style pieces like the following Invocazione should prove a rich seam of discovery for organists everywhere. I can imagine some of these being adopted as encores or virtuoso concert showpieces as a result of this recording.

CD 2 introduces us to Fumagalli's later style, adopting more serious forms in his four sonatas, of which we have two here. The Sonata in D indeed opens with serious thematic intent, but the general feel remains relatively light and Mediterranean, with sprightly energy in the first movement and an aria-like Adagio to follow. The final movement works out its material in counterpoint to build an effective and fairly powerful musical architecture. The Sonata in B flat was written for an 1880 competition in Milan but didn't win, achieving some recognition a year later. The proportions of these two sonatas is fairly similar, with a more extended first movement filled with plenty of variety, perhaps even a bit too much, a pleasantly lyrical slow central movement and a more earnest contrapuntal final statement to leave us impressed and uplifted.

The remaining pieces don't get a mention in the booklet notes, but they are all good quality stuff without necessarily standing out for their pioneering originality. There is a rhapsodic, narrative feel to Emulazione with its attractively dramatic contrasts, and Ripieno might easily be used as a processional intermezzo at some formal event. The little Scherzino is a frothy entertainment, and the programme is concluded by the Marcia villereccia which is another jaunty tune. All of these are played superbly by Marco Ruggeri, who has Fumagelli's style very well covered from witty to serious. There is a difference of organ and venue between the two CDs but both are well-chosen Bernasconi instruments from Fumagelli's time with their specifications printed in the booklet. The recordings are excellent in both locations.

Dominy Clements

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