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Gian Francesco MALIPIERO (1882-1973)
Symphony No. 6 ‘degli archi’ (1947) [21:37]
Ritrovari (1926) [11.13]
Serenata mattutina (1959) [12:26]
Cinque studi (1959/60) [12:22]
Orchestra della Svizera italiana/Damian Iorio
rec. 2017, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano, Switzerland
NAXOS 8.574173 [58:32]

Malipiero had a rather hostile attitude towards the Austro-German musical tradition, and while his orchestral works include seventeen “symphonies”, he numbered only eleven. The first was composed in 1933, when he was fifty. He was even averse to calling them ‘symphonies’, and the only early exceptions to that are the three Sinfonia degli eroi (1905), Sinfonia del mare (1906) and Sinfonie del silenzio e della morte (1909–1910). However, listening to these works reveals that they really are more symphonic poems than classically structured works in the German style.

Later in life he changed his mind and began to number them, and in the case of the Sixth he said “The sixth symphony might appear to be a Concerto grosso...but in it, the four movements are more highly developed, and therefore have a genuinely symphonic character”.

Well, the Sixth makes an immediate impact by virtue of its crystal-clear string lines and sheer energy. The slow movement is rather beautiful, slow and sorrowful without being particularly austere. The allegro vivo third movement is very brusque and at times positively grating in its aural impact, and the last movement, at nearly 10 minutes, is easily the longest of the four. As such, it has several distinct sections, alternating slow and fast, the slow parts having the same dignity as the second movement. A fugue appears as the penultimate fast section, and then the work ends quietly and solemnly.

The second work, Ritrovari (a made-up word), was given the following movement-by-movement analysis by Malipiero: (abbreviated for the purpose of this review):
1. Warlike, with the appearance of the theme
2. Discordant violence, lacerating hatred, a sudden blow
3. Funeral march on a simple theme – heroic and religious solemnity
4. Solitude and sadness
5. An immortal will for vengeance, liberation and glory, and exaltation at the promise of victory

By this stage in his development, the composer had abandoned the often lush, impressionistic work of his youth, and had adopted a clear almost neo-classical style. This is displayed clearly in Ritrovari, where even the first two sections are notable for their clarity and direction.  The funeral march third movement is solemnly attractive, with the theme sung by four violas and a cello.  The last movement could be described as ebullient rather than martial.

The Serenata mattutina (Morning Serenade) of 1959 is an example of the composer’s fondness for unusually structured chamber ensembles, here for flute, oboe, clarinet, two bassoons, two horns, two violas and celeste. Malipiero explains why he feels that a serenade is for the evening, but asserts that the first performance of the piece was to be in the Cloister of St Francis in Sorrento, and there the phosphorescent glow of the sea results in the darkness of night being reduced, so serenades merge into aubades. His words (in full) are quite lyrical, but alas, the music is emphatically not; his style has, by then, become chromatic and acerbic, showing no seductive melody. I found it tiresome, perversely titled and a waste of his poetic words.

The CD finishes with his Five Studies from the same period as the Serenata. These are his orchestrations of short piano pieces composed in 1959, just before the Serenata. The orchestration shows the same characteristics as that work, and is just as indigestible.  I have not heard the original piano pieces, but it may be that their style almost mandates the style of orchestration.

The booklet is very detailed and the production of the recordings is excellent, well balanced and vivid, allowing the orchestral strands to be heard clearly. The orchestra plays extremely well, and the conductor is clearly empathetic to Malipiero’s style.
 
Jim Westhead



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