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Giovanni SGAMBATI (1841-1914)
Symphony No. 1 in D major op.16 (1881) [38:30]
Symphony No. 2 in E flat major (1885) [41:00]
Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen/Ola Rudner
rec. 2015/17, Studio der Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen, Germany
CPO 555 195-2 [79:47]

The nineteenth-century Italian composer Giovanni Sgambati was born in Rome, had Liszt as a teacher and Wagner as an admirer. He ended up with a sturdy catalogue of instrumental music but one that included not a single opera. Sgambati's orchestral symphonies considerably out-stripped in quality those of his teacher.

Credit to Ola Rudner and the orchestra at Württemberg Reutlingen for giving us performances and recordings red in tooth and claw. These are so much more than sturdy gap-fillers.

The First Symphony recording has a palpable depth which goes well with this unfamiliar work. The music flies along and one never drifts off. The writing occasionally vies with top-drawer Saint-Saëns, Bizet and Schumann. The second movement rises to cawing grandeur but is strong on zephyr-smooth writing for the woodwind and a nicely nuanced sighing-sobbing melody. The third movement, a Scherzo-Presto, is not all beating wings and speed. There are quite a few, almost Tchaikovskian, blandishments, as if escaping from the Winter Daydreams symphony. The fourth movement, marked Serenata, is an echo of the Feierlich from Schumann's Third Symphony, but very gentle indeed. The finale (yes, five movements, like the Schumann) is an Allegro con fuoco and makes an exciting, moving and convincing conclusion to this 1881 Symphony.

It seems that Sgambati's four-movement Second Symphony was rediscovered comparatively recently and is now revelling in its recording premiere on CPO. Its 12- minute first movement broods its way out of romantic silence with darkly umbrageous thunder-strikes shouting across the skies. Again, the strong woodwind writing is lambent and of fibrous quality. A darting Allegro vivace assai keeps things skipping along, something in the manner of Mendelssohn and Bizet. There is a dignified and smooth-talking Andante con moto which is not a moment too long. A rumbustious, brass-adorned Allegro nicely rounds out this Symphony, which is the stunning equal of its predecessor of four years earlier.

CPO have the great advantage of coupling two fairly unknown, honey-tempered and inventive symphonies. You can get the Naxos version of Symphony No. 1 but that disc does not offer life-imbued versions of both symphonies. Next, do lend an ear to this composer's Messa da Requiem and Piano Concerto (Genesis, Tactus and ASV); the latter wheeled and sparkled out of neglect by none other than Jorge Bolet when Sgambati was barely a name.

The straight-talking and useful notes, which are in German and English, are by Roz Trübger.

Rob Barnett


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