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Mario CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO (1895-1968)
Works for Cello and Piano
Cello Sonata, Op. 50 [17:30]
Cello Sonatina, Op. 130 [12:25]
I nottambuli, Op. 47 [14:45]
Toccata, Op. 83 (1935) [10:55]
Chant hébraïque, Op. 53 (arr. Gaspar Cassadó) [4:28]
Scherzino, Op. 82, No. 2 [4:27]
Notturno sull'acqua, Op. 82, No. 1 [5:29]
Kol nidre, "Meditation" [4:03]
Enrico Dindo (cello)
Alessandro Marangoni (piano)
rec. 2018, SMC Records, Ivrea, Italy
NAXOS 8.573881 [74:31]

Firstly, Naxos must be applauded for their championing of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, as not for the first time they have turned up some truly wonderful music, in this occasion for the cello and piano. I have now got most of the Naxos discs dedicated to the composer, each of them containing some memorable and exciting finds. This disc is no different. In his autobiography the composer stated that “the cello is an instrument I’ve always particularly loved.” And this can be seen in the beautiful music recorded here.

The disc opens with the Cello Sonata of 1928 (and not 1935 as it states in the booklet essay, although the correct date is given on the back cover). It is a work that, though only in two movements, sees Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s mastery of sonata form, with the first movement having three distinct themes. The first is a lovely ‘slowish’ lilting cello line over a simple piano accompaniment. The second broader theme is stated in the piano first and then adopted by the cello. This theme develops out of the first, whilst the third “is seemingly an afterthought”. It is announced firstly on the cello and comes out of the exposition of the second theme. The second movement again begins slowly with the cello stating the tune, the piano then takes up the theme with what sounds simple strummed cello accompaniment but that I expect is anything but. What follows is a series of five variations, each quite different in character, one of which seems to exploit the composer’s Jewish heritage.

The Sonatina is the latest work on this disc and dates from 1946. It opens with a nice melody in the cello while the piano plays something else that, though complementary, is different to the cello’s tune. It is only during the exposition of the cello part that both instruments come together and support each other in the same music. The central Andantino follows on from where the first movement left off, with both instruments supporting each other, each taking their turn to be in the limelight. The final Rondo begins with the cello stating the march like tune with the piano playing a simple support, the piano then comes to the fore as both instruments take turns to lead.

The composer wrote a number of single movement pieces but, at fifteen minutes, I nottambuli is no miniature. ‘Night Owls’ refers to people of the night and not the birds, with its unfolding set of variations becoming more fantastic as they go. The five sections of this work alternate between some lovely lyrical passages and some more dramatic and quite virtuosic, for both cello and piano sequences, making this a quite colourful piece.

Dedicated to the famous cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, the Toccata is composed in three interlinked sections and dates from 1935. The three sections compliment each other well. The opening fast part gives way to a beautiful lyrical central Aria section, which yields into a more frenzied final section. This begins with pizzicato cello over a rippling piano before the music develops into a swirling piece that rushes headlong to the work’s conclusion.

What follows is an arrangement of Chant Hébraïque by the cellist Gaspar Cassadó, who was the dedicatee of I nottambuli. The piece started life as a vocalise before an arrangement was made for violin and piano and then later, at the request of the composer, this version for cello and piano was created. It begins with a sombre piano line that plods away supporting the meditative cello. A short central section lightens the mood before the original thematic material returns. The work concludes with a tiny flourish of the second theme mixed with the original music. It is a very atmospheric piece and one which draws on Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Jewish upbringing.

The Scherzino cannot be more different. The opening frothy theme soon gives way to Summer is acumen in, which had me singing ‘cuckoo’ as I listened. It is quite charming in the way that the composer juxtaposed one theme against the other and even intermingled them at times. This is followed by Notturno sull'acqua, a melodic miniature in which Castelnuovo-Tedesco remembers his nights on the banks of the river Arno, with a rippling piano and a lovely cello line broken at times by more strident music. The final work on the disc Kol nidre, "Meditation", which remains unpublished, is performed here from the composer’s manuscript. It was composed in 1941 when Castelnuovo-Tedesco was in Hollywood. It does have a feel of film music about it, due to an informal structure and how the opening theme reoccurs throughout the piece pointing to this. It is however another work where Castelnuovo-Tedesco is clearly drawing upon his Jewish heritage, with the melancholic theme based upon the Jewish prayer and making a wonderful concluding piece for this disc.

The performance of Enrico Dindo and Alessandro Marangoni is excellent throughout. They may be new names to me but their biographies point to glittering careers. This pays off in their performance, which is confident and well-articulated. The disc is well recorded and the booklet notes are informative and comprehensive, making it a valuable addition to the growing catalogue of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music.

Stuart Sillitoe



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