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Bruno BETTINELLI (1913-2004)
Divertimento a due for two guitars (1982) [8:01]
Musica a due for flute and guitar (1982) [6:53]
Due liriche for voice and guitar (1977) [5:06]
Improvvisazione for violin and piano (1968) [11:17]
Due movimenti for viola and piano (1977) [9:36]
Trio for violin, cello and piano (1991) [18:29]
Diego Milanese, Davide Ficco (guitars); Paola Dusio (flute); Manuela Custer (mezzosoprano); Duo Perugini-Pianezzola: Andrea Perugini (piano); Giambattista Pianezzola (violin/viola)
Trio Betinelli: Ilaria Cusano (violin); Jacopo Di Tonno (cello); Dario Cusano (piano)
rec. 2014/15, Chiesa della Beata Vergine Maria del Monte Carmelo al Colletto, Roletto, Turin; Piano Showroom, Yamaha Music Europe (Italy Branch), Lainate, Milan
Full texts and translations included
NAXOS 8.573836 [60:09]

Bruno Bettinelli lived a long life and enjoyed a composing career which lasted some sixty years. Highly regarded in his native Italy, his international cachet may have suffered a little, as, chronologically speaking, his birthdate fell directly between two distinct generations of Italian composers: those born in the early part of the 20th Century (Petrassi, Dallapiccola) and the more experimental figures born in the 1920s, such as Berio, Nono and Maderna. In stylistic terms, his music similarly seems to occupy a middle ground. The works collected here are characterised by hints of supple lyricism and are certainly well-crafted; the (decent) translation of Angelo Foletto’s detailed introductory note includes the phrase ‘conceptually artisanal’ which seems about right. Three of the works included in this collection involve duos with guitar- suggesting that Bettinelli was well equipped to fashion to order attractive music for unusual combinations of instruments. All this music holds one’s interest, is formally convincing and is played with commitment by the various instrumentalists involved; it just sounds a tad anonymous to me. The disc begins with the three guitar-based works and concludes with three grittier (and more extended) pieces for strings and piano.

The Divertimento for two guitars which opens the programme is light and vernal.  It requires playing of agility rather than extreme virtuosity and elides seamlessly between slower and more driven material. It is conceived with real clarity and is winningly played by Davide Ficco (who features as the guitar player in all three works) and Diego Milanese. Whereas the two instruments here are of equal status, the shimmering Musica a due involves the guitar taking on more of an accompanying role, while the breezy and optimistic material played by the flute borders at times on the virtuosic. Both works are formally convincing and enjoyable in themselves; they fill the moment but to my ears they lack memorability.  The best work in this triumvirate is the dyad of songs with guitar, the Due Liriche (evidently flashy titles were not Bettinelli’s ‘thing’). The words for these two songs, Autumno and Il Tempo were conceived by Betinelli himself while the music is always pertinent and descriptive, veering between the hushed and the more overtly expressive. The vocal lines are gratefully written – self-evidently by an Italian!  They are beautifully delivered by the mezzo Manuela Custer and Davide Ficco. All three works with guitar are faithfully recorded and sound appropriately atmospheric.

I feel that the pieces involving strings and piano have been less well-served by the engineers. Improvvisazione for violin and piano is the earliest work (1968) in this collection and the opening violin cadenza hints projects an austerity and an economy of means absent from the guitar-based pieces. The piano enters after about three minutes and sounds rather shrill and over-resonant in its higher register. This impression does wear off as the work proceeds and the lower register begins to predominate. What emerges is an impressive, serious piece. The violin part is idiomatically written and hints at expressionism. The piano writing in the faster sections beautifully mirrors the declamatory violin material before a mini-cadenza presages an abrupt ending to this piece, which at times recalls Dallapiccola in its angularity. The following Due movimenti for viola and piano emerged a decade later and straddles the border between tentative, improvisatory content in the slow first section and music of a more assertive, confident even neo-classical hue in the tripartite second. Again, this is serious minded music that lacks nothing in craftsmanship, though it again seems rather academic and dry in its overall effect.

The final work is Bettinelli’s four-movement Trio from 1991, a piece which seems to synthesise many of the techniques and gestures found in the preceding duos with strings. The more extended structure better affords the opportunity for the listener to trace the composer’s developmental procedures as well as showcasing an obvious flair for colouristic and expressive contrast. The slow calmo movement is tautly conceived and has a touch of the valedictory about it. The Scherzo marked veloce hints at Bartok in its rhythmic and melodic shapes while there are moments of reflection built into the string writing of the finale. This trio is a substantial piece which seems to suggest that Bettinelli was a more confident and purposeful artist when working with larger structures. It would consequently be fascinating to hear some of Bettinelli’s concertos and choral works mentioned in the notes. Perhaps in time, given that they have recorded other lesser-known Italians such as Ghedini, Naxos will oblige.

All three of these strings-with-piano works receive persuasive advocacy from the Duo Perugini-Pianezzola and the Trio Bettinelli, notwithstanding my comments about the piano sound. In summary, the disc as a whole usefully plugs a gap in our appreciation of the stylistic currents involved in Italian chamber music composition in the late twentieth century. Bettinelli’s music is undoubtedly well-crafted and formally cogent, though it is debatable whether any of these pieces will have a lasting impact on listeners.

Richard Hanlon

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