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Notturno in Hollywood (1941) [6:02]
Alt Wien, Rapsodia Viennese, op. 30 (1923) [4:20]
Vitalba e Biancospino, op. 21 (1921) [6:39]
Cantico per San Bernardino, op.19 (1920) [7:51]
Sonatina Zoologica, op. 187 (Dragonflies, Snails, Lizard and Ants) (1960) [16:56]
Two Film Etudes, op. 67 – I. Charlot (Charlie) II. Topolino (Mickey Mouse) (1931) [7:31]
Cielo di Settembre, op. 1 (1910) [4:13]
Piedigrotta, op. 32 (1924) [20:53]
Alfonso Soldano (piano)
rec. 2016/17, Concert Hall of the European Arts Academy, Trani, Italy
DIVINE ART DDA25152 [74:28]

Castelnuovo-Tedesco was an American immigrant, escaping the Fascist Europe of the 1930s, who settled in Hollywood, like Korngold. Here he taught film music and his students included Henry Mancini, André Previn, Nelson Riddle, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams. It is apposite therefore when considering the first piece on this album, Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Notturno in Hollywood. The composer was under no illusions about the ‘Dream Factories’ of Hollywood and this evocative little piece has dreamy glitter but it also looks behind all this and suggests another side – the flint hardness and sleaze of the industry.

Not so long ago I reviewed with great enthusiasm Mark Bebbington’s recital of piano works by Castelnuovo-Tedesco and inevitably there was a little overlap between that SOMM recording and this one, so I have included my own comparative thoughts between the two interpretations. Alt Vien (‘Old Vienna’) is a case in point and I prefer Bebbington’s more expressive, nuanced, poetic interpretation to the darker, harsher, harder treatment that Soldano bestows.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco always loved fairy tales and legends. His Vitalba e Biancospino, fiaba silvana, was just so inspired. There is a childlike innocence about it but it is essentially an entrancing gem with a translucent sonority. One can so easily imagine a fantasy narrative. Cantico per San Bernadino was inspired by the Christian faith although the composer was essentially Jewish. It is an impressive piece with divine, prayer-like supplications. There is grandeur and majesty and contrasting quiet simplicity plus bell-like material. With Sonatina Zoologica, Castelnuovo-Tedesco relives his childhood and spins charming, witty and brilliantly conceived descriptions of the four animals, their characteristics and gait. ‘Dragonflies’ is light and graceful. It has iridescent beauty. ‘Snails’ is very slow and meditative with Tristan allusions and some clever use of canon, fugue and counterpoint forms. ‘Lizard’ scuttles and darts from repose; there is rhythmic vivacity here. ‘Ants’ is busy, busy; there is marching to and fro and as the notes suggest, these are “pages of pure virtuosity that run explosively to a belligerent percussive beat”. The 2 Film studies characterise Charlie Chaplin and Mickey Mouse. The composer explained his choice thus: “[They are] undoubtedly the largest and most complete personalities of the cinema […] even from a musical point of view.” Both are vividly portrayed. Charlie’s awkward gait and slapstick turns plus the sentimental pathos of his predicaments are artfully captured; so too are Mickey Mouse’s cavortings and, in their contexts, we hear irreverent references to Bizet and Puccini. Cielo di Settembre was the composer’s first ‘official’ work, written when he was studying harmony and counterpoint. It is influenced by French ‘impressionism’ and ‘by a burning desire to explore the depths of emotional music through a focus of tonal colours and constantly shifting harmonies (in the style of Ravel).’ The piece, in the spirit of its early- -autumnal title, is mellow and somewhat nostalgic, languid and melancholic, but it haunts. Finally there is the Piedigrotta 1924, Rapsodia Napoletana, depicting life in Naples. Both Soldano and Bebbington include this work. Bebbington describes the opening ‘Tarantella’ as ‘the most difficult two minutes in the whole recital.’ His reading is more restrained than that of Soldano who, although taking a couple of seconds longer than Bebbington, rollicks along and sparkles. The lovely ‘Notte ‘e luna movement’ has both pianists delivering pleasingly dreamy romantic readings while the rhythmically vivacious Calasciunte, with its suggested sound of an ancient guitar-like folk instrument, finds Bebbington scoring more highly. ‘Voce luntana’ has Soldano tender and passionate but so too is Bebbington. Finally, both pianists enjoy the extrovert Lariulà that seems to suggest a gradually approaching marching band.

Ian Lace

Previous review: John France



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