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Marco Enrico BOSSI (1861-1925)
Epousailles – Méditation réligieuse, Op.134 No.1 [10:56]
Dolce Soffrir for cello and piano [2:35]
Romanza for doublebass & piano 3:19]
4 Pezzi in Forma di Suite, Op.99 for violin & piano [13:01]
Serenatina for violin & piano, Op.127 No.5 [2:57]
Il Canto dell’Anima for violin & piano [4:58]
Canzone Gotica for harp and 2 violins [3:15]
Romanze for viola & piano, Op.79 [2:40]
Benediction Nuptiale for viola & piano, Op.111 No.1 [3:27]
Suite antico - Siciliana e Giga for flute & piano [5:23]
Improvviso (for flute & piano) [2:27]
Improvviso (for oboe & piano) [3:16]
Improvviso for bassoon & piano [3:27]
Menuet et Musette for bassoon & piano, Op.111 No.2 [2:48]
Giulio Giurato (piano)
Roberto Noferini (violin), Andrea Noferini (cello), Claudio Brizi (harmonium), Anna Noferini (viola), Paolo Dalmoro (flute), Paolo Pollastri (oboe), Roberto Giaccaglia (bassoon), Emanuela Degli Esposti (harp), Roberto Rubini (double bass)
rec. 2012-17, Teatro Consorziale Budrio, Bologna; Studio G Molinari, Massa Finalisi, Modina; Sala Vasari, Istituto Rizzoli, Bologna.
TACTUS TC862707 [65:42]

Organists will recognise the name as the commanding figure of late 19th century Italian organ music. Just two pieces by Marco Enrico Bossi have lodged themselves into the repertory, the Scherzo in G minor and the spectacular Etude Symphonique (the extraordinary demands of which mean it is in the repertory of just a handful of true virtuosi organists). Other pieces crop up in various albums of “useful” pieces for church organists, and these sometimes have found their way on to record. In my early days as a budding organ virtuoso I hawked Bossi’s Organ Concerto around various orchestras, and even gave a handful of live performances of it. I know that one live performance was recorded and a pirated version of the tape privately released on LP, but otherwise record collectors have only a shaky Italian CD made some 20 years ago available to them.

Bossi’s problem was that, rather like his compatriot Martucci, his compositional output focussed on instrumental music rather than opera. Bossi did write a few operas, all of which failed, but with a work list stretching up towards the 200 mark, by far and away his greatest contribution to music was in the field of instrumental music. Italian composers of the 19th century were not supposed to do anything other than write operas, so Bossi turned to France for his inspiration, thereby alienating himself from his own musical compatriots. With this premiere recording of over a dozen of his assorted chamber works, we can, at last, begin to assess Bossi as a significant composer beyond the organ loft.

This disc seems to skirt round the peripheries of Bossi’s chamber output. The desiccated work list in Grove, for instance, refers to a couple of violin sonatas and piano trios, none of which is included in this disc. The piano trios are available on both Brilliant Classics and Tactus (review) and the violin sonatas were recorded on the Italian Ducale label back in 1992, but do not appear to have been commercially recorded otherwise. Tactus seem to be working their way through Bossi’s music, so I imagine they will issue these two works sometime in the future.

From the list of musicians involved in this disc (including the three Noferini siblings), it should be obvious that the range of Bossi’s chamber output was indeed far-reaching. The disc opens with a fascinating piece, Epousailles, scored for violin, cello, piano, harmonium and tam tam. How Bossi loves dealing with this enticing sound world, luxuriating in its opportunities for high drama and pathos, and giving some good material to the cello, which opens the work with a theme which seems like a first cousin to the Dies Irae. It also tells us why Bossi’s reputation rests on the organ rather than on his concert music; he loves unusual sounds and good, thick exotic harmonies, but he’s not a man for a good melody or a memorable idea, and his skill is best appreciated in short and colourful bursts rather than with extended exposure. Even in Epousailles we quickly get lost in a jungle of thick texture which appears to have no clear path leading through it. It is nice to savour what is happening around us, but it would be nicer still to know that we are actually heading somewhere. The French title indicates music for a marriage ceremony, and if nothing else, the music speaks of a deep affection and even a hint at something rather more sensuous.

The one piece here for cello and piano – Dolce Soffrir – immediately evokes the sound world of Schubert, but without the melodic gift. Nevertheless, cellist Andrea Noferini revels in the music’s deeply expressive eloquence. An unusual Romanza for double bass and piano continues in the same vein, but with Bossi often taking the bass across its full range, the effect at times has an almost comical feel. Which is not in any way to undermine Roberto Rubini’s beautiful handling of the bass’s quasi-recitativo writing. The real interest here lies in the sequence of enticingly spicy piano chords (starting at 2:30) which bring the work eventually to its tranquil conclusion.

Three works for violin and piano give ample opportunity for violinist Roberto Noferini and pianist Giulio Giurato to demonstrate their superb partnership in music which moves with considerable freedom over rhythms, times, keys, harmonies, dynamics and moods, never really staying in one place for very long but always creating a sense of warm affection which is neither dramatic nor emotionally-charged. These are like short stories told by the fireside but with a great deal of extravagant hand gestures from the narrator, typified by the rousing “Scena Bacchia”, the fourth of the four pieces which constitute Bossi’s Op.99. There is a moment of pure Impressionism in the atmospheric Il Canto dell’Anima where, above Giurato’s turbulent arpeggios, Roberto Noferini delivers a wonderfully expansive line; if ever a chamber work evoked sea and sky, this does.

Bossi’s fondness for unusual instrumental colour is again revealed in the mystical Canzone Gotica for harp and two violins (with Anna Noferini joining brother Roberto as the second violinist), while the two pieces for viola and piano find Anna evoking a beautifully rich tone for the Romanze, a piece which simply oozes love. I am not sure that the transcription for viola and piano of the Benediction Nuptiale, originally scored for cello, works as well, but there is undeniable charm in the Siciliana and Giga for flute and piano, even if Paolo Dalmoro seems to be making rather heavy weather of it.

Dalmoro seems far more in his element in the first of three woodwind Improvvisi. All three of these are idiomatically written for their respective instruments, the one for flute and piano having an unmistakably French feel as it flies graciously over an animated piano accompaniment. Paolo Pollastri brings out pathos in the one for oboe, and the music’s broad dynamic sweep is ideally measured by Giurato in a piano part which seems for ever leaping through the stylistic hoops. More calm and stable is the one for bassoon in which Roberto Giaccaglia exhibits a gloriously spacious and expansive sound both eloquent and commanding. He wraps the disc up with a charming character piece, Menuet et Musette which Bossi suggested could be played equally effectively on the cello, horn and viola, but here sounds absolutely ideally suited to the bassoon.

There is plenty of fascinating material in Arturo Sacchetti’s booklet note, but not only is it obscured by a veritable jungle of extravagant topographical allusions (“we pass through a desert whose only important oasis was the work of Antonio Bazzini”) but the English translation is so convoluted and weird as to defy comprehension (what are “universal organological feats” or “musicians who preferred the exaltation of the transalpine creeds”?). The recording is far from demonstration quality, but it is enough to make this fascinating collection of unusual chamber music from an unusual source well worth seeking out.

Marc Rochester


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