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John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Piano Concerto in E flat major (1930) [25:34]
Cello Sonata in G minor (1923) [20:11]
Alfredo CASELLA (1883-1947)
Concerto for piano, violin and cello and orchestra, Op.56 (1933) [26:22]
Annarosa Taddei (piano: Ireland concerto)
Alfredo Casella (piano: Casella)
John Ireland (piano: sonata)
Antoni Sala (cello: sonata)
Arturo Bonucci (cello: Casella)
Alberto Poltronieri (violin)
Orchestra Sinfonica della RAI/Alfredo Casella (Ireland)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Serge Koussevitzky (Casella)
rec. 15 March 1946, Foro Italico, live broadcast (Ireland Concerto): 25 October 1928, London (Sonata): 22 February 1936, Symphony Hall, Boston, live broadcast (Csella)

This rather fascinating release, of which the main focus is Alfredo Casella – both as composer and conductor - contains two very rare survivals. The first is John Ireland’s Piano Concerto heard in a RAI live broadcast in the Foro Italico – previously known as the Foro Mussolini – on 15 March 1946. The soloist was the young Annarosa Taddei and Casella the conductor, and this is the only known surviving example of his performances for Italian Radio between the years 1937 and his death a decade later and his only known appearance on disc as a conductor. The performance was preserved on four acetate discs though regrettably the companion works, Casella’s La giara and his arrangement of a Vivaldi Concerto for Strings, have seemingly not survived. The announcements introducing the work are in Italian and English, so it was RAI’s clear intention, given that the spoken introduction includes a dedication to ‘listeners of the BBC’ that it should be broadcast in England. But the booklet notes indicate there’s no evidence it was ever broadcast there, though the other two works were.

The soloist was born in Pisa in 1918, studied first in Florence and then in Casella’s postgraduate piano course in Rome and gave the first Italian and Swiss performances of the Ireland. She was one of Cortot’s favourite pupils and started recording in 1950 for the Cetra label, then Vox. Wrist problems ended her public career in 1976 and thereafter she taught. She died in 2011. At the time of the performance the only available recording was Eileen Joyce’s pioneering 1942 set with Leslie Heward and it would be interesting to know if the Italians had been able to procure a set between the end of the war and the rehearsals for the local premiere – had they even been interested in so doing, that is.

As it is, the performance is very much stronger orchestrally than soloistically, which is perhaps one reason why the BBC chose not to broadcast it. It’s not technically fallible so much as stylistically. Taddei’s phrasing is inclined to move from lumpily horizontal to over-aggressive and quite a bit of her playing is heavy-handed without the requisite sense of flow. That said, rather strangely, it vests the music, as does particularly Casella’s conducting, with a more ambiguous modernism than is perhaps the case when listening to native performances from Joyce – her live 1949 performance on Ireland’s 70th birthday is especially compelling – or Colin Horsley or the generation that followed him. The recording itself is a bit acidic and moments of overload - the horns are muddy, for example – should be noted. The passage where the solo violin joins the piano for their duet in the finale coincides with a higher ration of surface noise but in the main, despite certain inherent problems, restoration work has been effective. It’s certainly a very listenable affair and the acetates themselves are commendably quiet. The audience applause is retained and seems to convey, to put it politely, bemusement.

It’s back to 1936 for Casella’s own Concerto for piano, violin and cello and orchestra where he‘s part of the Italian Trio, his colleagues being Alberto Poltronieri (violin) and Arturo Bonucci (cello). The Boston Symphony Orchestra is directed by Serge Koussevitzky. If I am reading the notes correctly the first two movements were once issued on a Timaclub release minus the finale but in the interim the final movement was found amongst Casella’s possessions (he had kept the whole set) and issued in full on a Fonotipia release. The transfers in this FHR release come direct from the original Westinghouse Broadcasting Company aluminium discs and are the only surviving examples of Casella the pianist with orchestra. The Italian Trio, of course, made a number of chamber recordings commercially.

There’s overload here too from time to time but it’s a creditable sound for the circumstances, powerful and corrosive. Sometimes, early on, Casella’s piano sounds rather splintery but he and his string colleagues interweave admirably and there is sufficient spatial separation between the trio and the Boston orchestra even though listeners will note the inevitably flat perspective. The slow movement is particularly lovely, and one can hear Casella’s solo statements with clarity, albeit later on the Boston horns are inclined to shatter in the recording.

Quite a bit of restoration has clearly gone on in both cases and it’s been to the great advantage of these exceptionally rare performances held on unique acetate and aluminium discs.

The odd man out is Ireland’s Cello Sonata, heard in the 1928 Columbia recording with the composer on board, accompanying Spanish cellist Antoni Sala. This has been reissued on Dutton as well (CDBP9799) in an all-Ireland disc. I’m afraid I don’t like this transfer. It makes Sala’s tone even more nasal than Dutton did, and I didn’t very much like their transfer either. I don’t want to be adamant about this – because I can’t know for sure - but I doubt very much whether this transfer was taken from a 78rpm set: it doesn’t sound like it to me. Surviving sets have quite a lot of surface noise. Noise suppression has been ruthlessly employed here, one way or the other.

Still, the most important elements of this release are the Concertos. Casella’s wonderfully vivid work is heard through a glass quite darkly, Ireland’s imperfectly, but that they are here at all is something of a minor miracle, though the gap between the two Ireland works is far too short. The supporting documentation is first class and historically minded listeners will be excited by the existence of these performances. It would be best, however, to have realistic expectations as to interpretation and sound quality.

Jonathan Woolf



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