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Ninna-Nanna (Berceuse) [1:56]
Calma (a Giramonte) [2:05]
Scampanio (dale Nozze di Lisa Ricasoli e di Baccaccio Adimari) [1:44]
Terrazze [4:09]
Stars: Four Sketches op. 104 [15:55]
El Encanto: Three Californian Sketches op. 165 [7:49]
Exotica, A Rhapsody of the South Seas for violin and piano [12:37]
Serenatella on the name of Jascha Heifetz, op. 170 no. 2, for violin and piano [7:10]
Humoresque on the name of Tossy Spivakovsky, op. 170 no. 8, for violin and piano [5:57]
Eleonora Turtur (violin), Angelo Arciglione (piano)
rec. Digressione Studio, Italy, 2018

As 2018 passes us by, we cannot help but be aware that it is Debussy’s and Bernstein’s year. Their anniversaries seem to have been celebrated at the expense of everyone else’s. And yet, here is a small Italian record label who chose to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. He was born in Florence but after being persecuted during the Second World War became an American citizen; he died in Beverly Hills on the 16th March 1968. Sadly, this event seems to have been all but forgotten. Only a couple of discs from Naxos and this present disc have come to my attention. Over the past few years, Naxos has done the composer proud with a number of very fine recordings. (My collection still misses the one work that made his name in the 1970s and 1980s – his Guitar Concerto.)

Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s piano music appears, amongst others, on the discs by Pietro Massa (Capriccio C5156) and by Claudio Curti Gialdino (in a box set of 20th century Italian piano music, Brilliant 9470). Apart from one short piece, Alghe, which does not appear on this CD, there is no overlap. The list of the composer’s piano music contains even more to discover. These three discs show how the composer has been neglected: this is music of great interest and beauty.

The opening track offers a lovely lilting lullaby with a simple and charming tune which the composer composed when he was only ten. It draws you into this disc straight away. Two further examples of juvenilia are Calma and Scampanio which, like Ninna-Nanna, bely his age: he was fifteen and sixteen respectively. Other music comes from his mature period, all except Terrazze (1936) being drawn from the period after he was forced to flee Italy and settle in Hollywood. He made his living composing for the big studios. Stars: Four Sketches op. 104 (1940) celebrates the profiles of some of the stars he met on the sets. His portrait of Deanna Durbin is quite playful. The Three Californian Sketches that make up El Encanto are the composer’s reflections on the countryside around Santa Barbara where he took family holidays. Patio is another piece that has a lovely lilting melody which this time reflects siesta time. The final two pieces Noche and Huerto have an air of Ravel about them.

The final three pieces are for violin and piano. (I know none of his other chamber music, except transcriptions for cello and piano on the very enjoyable recent Cello Concerto disc on Naxos 8.573820.) The first of these gives this disc its title Exotica. In A Rhapsody of the South Seas we have Castelnuovo-Tedesco in descriptive mood again. He depicts the exotic Californian landscape. It is easy to imagine the Pacific Ocean; at one point the music seems to ebb and flow and crash onto the beach. He would also immortalise the friends he would meet in music. This is the case with the final two pieces on this disc. The first is a rhapsodic melody for Jascha Heifetz, who had helped the composer settle in America and who would premier the Violin Concerto; he was also the dedicatee of the previous work. The final work is a virtuosic piece for another of his friends, Nathan ‘Tossy’ Spivakovsky, a Russian-born Jewish violinist who had also settled in California and had helped the composer and his family to settle.

The playing in both the piano pieces and those for violin and piano is excellent. Angelo Arciglione shows his skills as both a soloist and accompanist, although in Exotica there are passages where the instruments play more in partnership. Eleonora Turtur has a lovely tone and uses her instrument to great effect. There are times when she has a tone reminiscent of the great violinist that two of these works were dedicated to, Jascha Heifetz. I would want to hear more pieces that involve her. The booklet notes are informative but a bit messy, as they jump around a bit, but this might be down to the translation from the Italian. The recorded sound is good and captured in a natural acoustic, making this a most desirable recording.

Stuart Sillitoe

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