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Cantatas for Soprano
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Alberto CURCI (1886-1973)
Violin Concerto No.1 in D minor ‘Concerto romantico’, Op.21 [16:33]
Violin Concerto No.2 in D minor, Op.30 [20:42]
Violin Concerto No.3 in G minor, Op.33 [18:57] Suite italiana in stile antico in A minor, Op.34 [15:52]
Franco Gulli (violin)
Studio Orchestra/Franco Capuana
rec. 1963 (1 & 2), 1964 (3, Suite), Basilica of Sant’Eufemia, Milan FIRST HAND RECORDS FHR53 [72:04]
Curci was a new name to me when I offered to review this interesting disc of reissues of recordings from the early 1960s. The principal attraction of the disc was the chance to hear the great Italian violinist, Franco Gulli, of whose recordings I have been able to find far too few. Judging by his relatively small discography Gulli was a fairly conservative musician, so I was expecting the concertos on this disc to be late romantic in style rather than being in any way modernist and that expectation proved to be correct. According to Tully Potter’s excellent booklet notes, the three concertos were published in 1944, 1963 and 1966 but there is no information about when they were actually written. The suspicion must be that they were written much earlier because they all sound like products of the period around Curci’s birth, i.e. in the late nineteenth century, but it may be that the composer simply chose to ignore the works of his contemporaries and carried on producing what pleased him, regardless of changes in fashion.
As a precocious violinist Curci studied with Joachim, amongst others, and the influence of the great violinist’s own concertos – as well as those of Goldmark and Dvorak - can be heard in the first movement Allegro animato of the Op.21 concerto. Potter suggests that the slow movement Romanza is the kind of beautiful inspiration that should be a hit on Classic FM. It would certainly make a change from the ubiquitous Bruch First Concerto but I fear it slightly lacks the memorability of that work’s slow movement. The bouncy finale mainly comprises Neapolitan dance-like themes - which it barely develops before it is over all too quickly. Indeed, all three concertos are relatively short and certainly don’t outstay their welcome.
The first movement, Allegro giusto, of the Op. 30 concerto reminded me of Glazunov and it seems that Curci’s influence here was, indeed, gained while touring Slavic countries. This movement leads directly into the second movement Andante – which, in my opinion, is probably a slightly better candidate for a Classic FM hit. It finishes with a cadenza, linking to the finale, that suggests it is heading in the direction of the last movement of Wieniawski’s Second Concerto. When it comes, the finale’s first theme is somewhat sub-Wieniawski but it is characterful enough and it ends, again somewhat suddenly, with a brilliant coda.
The suggestion is that the Op. 33 concerto was intended to be more symphonic, with cyclical use of themes. The Allegro appassionato first movement certainly starts out as if it means business but, just as it has got going, it too stops rather suddenly. The lyrical Andante cantabile middle movement is pleasant but a bit faceless and it leads into the last movement Allegro - which seems primarily designed as a vehicle for nineteenth century-style virtuoso display, àla Sarasate.
The baroque-style Suite, Op. 34, also published in 1966, seems to echo the late nineteenth/early twentieth century fashion for paying homage to a previous age. It reminds me of several of Kreisler’s ‘in the style of’ works without being quite as memorable as any of them.
As expected, Gulli and his “studio orchestra” colleagues (probably largely comprising moonlighting members of the Orchestra of La Scala – which was under exclusive contract to EMI at the time) provide splendid and suitably characterful performances - Gulli with exactly the right kind of understated but authentic portamenti that made him such a special soloist. The remastered recording is pretty good for the 1960s – vivid enough, albeit a bit dead. Incidentally, mention is made of “stereo transfers” on the back of the case but these all seem to be genuine stereo, rather than anything like the ghastly “stereo transcriptions” that, all too often, dealt the coup de grace to good mono recordings of the 1950s and 60s. So, these are classic performances of works that, whilst not lost masterpieces, certainly don’t deserve to be forgotten. Bob Stevenson
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