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The Golden Age of Concertmasters: Alfonso Mosesti
Leone SINIGAGLIA (1868-1944)
Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 20 (1899) [28:34]
Antonio ILLERSBERG (1882-1953)
Violin Concerto in G major (1906-11) [38:40]
Alfonso Mosesti (violin)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma della RAI/Ferruccio Scaglia (Sinigaglia)
Orchestra Filarmonica Triestina/Octavio Ziino (Illersberg)
rec. live broadcast, 7 November 1959, Auditorium Foro Italico, Roma (Sinigaglia); 1953 studio Radio Trieste, Teatro Comunale Giuseppe Verdi, Trieste (Illersberg)

Despite the rarity of the repertoire, Rhine Classics has promoted its latest release under the name of the soloist in both works, Alfonso Mosesti, in its ‘The Golden Age of Concertmasters’ marque. There’s a pleasing interview in the booklet reproduced from La Repubblica in which Mosesti reflects about his experiences as a performer and comments on the conductors with whom he performed during his distinguished career as a leader in Italian orchestras. There’s also a charming photograph of Mosesti and David Oistrakh taken in Turin. Mosesti, born in 1924, was a pupil of Antonio Illersberg and Cesare Barison in Trieste and performed as soloist and concertmaster in Naples and Turin from 1954 to 1999.

I last listened to the Illersberg Concerto in the context of a DVD (see review). As I wrote there, it was written between 1906-11 and was dedicated to Mosesti’s teacher, Barison. For some reason, the work remained unperformed until its belated premiere in 1951 by Mosesti, two years before the composer’s death. The full score and parts are now missing so what is performed is the only authentic example of the concerto, the recent filmed performance being a reconstruction by the conductor Adriano Martinolli D’Arcy based on the violin and piano reduction and details heard in this 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. Mosesti plays with unfailingly fine tone and has the sensitivity to play quietly in the lovely slow movement. This is deft, sensitive, stylish playing and it’s fully equal to the expressive demands of the music, as much as to the technical ones. Ottavio Ziino directs the Trieste Philharmonic very capably.

Sinigaglia is a better-known figure than the rather more obscure Illersberg. His 1899 Concerto was dedicated to an earlier master of the Italian violin school, Arrigo Serato, who premiered it in Berlin two years later and took it to Vienna (where Nikisch conducted) and to his homeland in Milan in April 1902 where Toscanini was on the rostrum. It too is in a well-established three-movement format. Ferruccio Scaglia sculpts the opening paragraphs with confident, even aggressive direction and Mosesti responds with the most varied and felicitous of bowing, negotiating the writing with great elegance. His control of tone colour and bow pressure is admirable, and when he tightens the vibrato his tone never turns metallic. It’s a far more soft-grained tonal arsenal than commonly to be heard from the Russian school and reflects Mosesti’s Italianate training and heritage perfectly.

The Sinigaglia should be far better known than it is. It has something of the open-hearted quality of the Dvořák, the freshness of the Goldmark and a full quotient of ripe lyricism cut from high late-Romanticism. The central movement is a meditative Arcadia, established by the horns and winds, topped by the violin’s songful lyricism, whilst the finale is avuncular, hinting at an axis of Dvořák-Brahms. As the recording is quite close-up the listener can catch many examples of Mosesti’s subtle and supple bowing.

The restoration by Emilio Pessina is excellent. The authoritative booklet has been written by Gianluca La Villa and provides a wealth of important information. You will also find the quality of photographic reproduction to be at a very high level.

This brace of Italian concertos preserves much that is lyric and generous-minded. If you have an affinity with the composers cited in the review and are not allergic to historic recordings, then you will enjoy exploring these barely-heard scores, and find much pleasure in doing so.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank


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