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Alberto CURCI (1886-1973)
Violin Concerto No.1 in D minor ‘Concerto romantico’, Op.21 (pub. 1944) [16:33]
Violin Concerto No.2 in D minor, Op.30 (1962) [20:42]
Violin Concerto No.3 in G minor, Op.33 (pub. 1966) [18:57]
Suite italiana in stile antico in A minor, Op.34 [15:52]
Franco Gulli (violin), Studio Orchestra/Franco Capuana
rec. July 1963 (1 & 2) and July 1964 (3, Suite), Basilica of Sant’Eufemia, Milan

Tully Potter remarks, in his accompanying notes to this issue, that the Italian composer Alberto Curci is virtually unknown outside his native land, and the situation within it isn't much better either. I can confidently vouch for that; I've never come across his name before. Being a sucker for off-the-beaten track music and composers, this release seems to be just up my street. Added to that, the violinist who performs these captivating scores is fellow compatriot Franco Gulli (1926-2001), a violinist I'm very familiar with, having reviewed many of his recordings over the past few years (review ~ review ~ review ~ review).

Curci was born in Naples in 1886 and his talent for the violin surfaced early. He was a pupil of Angelo Ferni at the city's conservatory; Ferni traced an impressive lineage back to Bériot and Vieuxtemps. It was Eugen d'Albert who encouraged him to study with Joseph Joachim in Berlin. He debuted at the Mozart Saal in 1907 and from thence his career took flight, especially winning praise for his interpretation of the Beethoven Concerto. In 1910 he sought further tuition from Otakar Ševčík in Prague. The war years saw him giving concerts for the troops. He spent the last forty years of his career teaching violin at the Naples Conservatory. In addition to this, he was heavily involved in the Edizioni Curci publishing business, which issued some of his own music. In 1966 he founded the Fondazione Curci, and a year later a biennial violin competition. He died in 1973.

What of the music itself? Curci wasn't particularly original, and the works featured aren’t ground-breaking. Tonal, memorable and bathed in unabashed late-Romanticism, Curci's gift for melody and searing emotional intensity will garner instant appeal to those willing to dip their toe in the water. The Violin Concerto No. 1 'Concerto romantico' proves the point. Published in 1944, but written some time earlier, it was given a first outing by Arrigo Pelliccia and the Alessandro Scarlatti Orchestra under the baton of Ferruccio Scaglia. The central Romanza is particularly captivating, where hushed strings support a ravishing, long-spun melody of ear-titillating delight, intensified by Gulli's ardent phrasing and silken tone. This is followed by a playful finale with a deliciously sprung rhythm.

The premiere of the Second Concerto, Op. 30 took place in Naples in 1962, with Franco Gulli as soloist. Curci's travels led him to compose a work sprinkled with Slavic seasoning. The opening movement makes its presence felt with rhapsody and declamation, but the second song-like theme doesn't have quite the instant appeal as similar moments in the First Concerto. Once again, it’s the slow movement which charms the senses with its lyrical fragrance. A cadenza ushers in the finale - an amalgam of virtuosity and gipsy swagger.

Curci approached the Third concerto, published in 1966, more symphonically, incorporating cyclical use of themes. On the whole, the orchestration sounds more heavily textured. However, he certainly wasn't parsimonious with his attractive melodies and, once again, the slow movement is steeped in honeyed perfume, rather sentimental. The third movement is awash with double stops and high flying virtuosic passages, it's a veritable tour de force. The final cadenza is underscored by orchestral interjections.

The Suite italiana in stile antico, Op. 34 was also published in 1966 and nods respectfully to the writing 'in the old style' of exponents such as Respighi and Reger and, to some extent, Kreisler. So the movements adopt such Baroque titles as Minuetto and Gavotta, with the Larghetto pastorale adopting a siciliano style.

Franco Capuana conducts a 'Studio Orchestra', a pick-up orchestra consisting of members of the Orchestra of La Scala, supplemented by freelancing musicians around at the time. The recordings drive from the Edizioni Curci archive. Concertos 1 and 2 originally appeared in 1963-4 in mono, but when issued in America on Musical Heritage Society LPs, they were released in stereo. The other two works started life in mono, but were later issued on cassette in stereo. FHR's splendid hi-resolution remasterings confer a glowing radiance on these strikingly impressive scores.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous reviews: Jonathan Woolf ~ Rob Barnett ~ Bob Stevenson

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