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Ermanno WOLF-FERRARI (1876-1948)
Complete Overtures and Intermezzi
Overture: Le donne curiose (1902-3) [6.47]
Festo populare, Intermezzo, Serenata and Danza Napolitano from I gioielli della Madonna (1911) [15.29]
Overture: Il secreto di Susanna (1909) [2.43]
Overture and Intermezzo: L’amore medico (1913) [13.13]
Overture: La dama boba (1939) [8.04]
Prelude and Intermezzo from I quatro rusteghi (1906) [5.32]
Prelude, Intermezzo and Ritornello: Il Campiello (1936) [9.42]
Oviedo Filarmonia/Friedrich Haider
rec. 2009/10, Auditorio ‘Principe Felipe’ de Oviedo, Asturias, Spain
NAXOS 8.573582 [62.31]

Naxos is gradually making its way through the major works of this Venetian-born Romantic composer, whose parental heritage was German on his father’s side and Italian on his mother’s, and this leads to a composer with a wild-ranging style of much versatility and often, originality, and certainly a great deal of charm. Strangely enough, however, he seems to have been more successful in Germany than in his own land.

The other discs you can find on Naxos are his three Violin Sonatas (8.574297), his well-known opera The Jewels of the Madonna (four extracts are also found on this new disc) as a two-disc set (8.660386-87). There is the one-act opera Susanna’s Secret (8.660385); we also have its bubbly overture here, and his early oratorio Talitha Kumi (8.573716). The Oviedo Filarmonia is, I must confess, new to me but they also recorded The Jewels of the Madonna and I find them very impressive - especially the warmth of their strings.

I should also mention a fine Chandos disc (CHAN 10511) with the BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda which has all of the above items with the exception of the overture of Le donne curiose (The Inquisitive Women) but as it was written when the composer was just starting out in the world of opera buffa and is not particularly distinguished, it is no great loss. Instead, Chandos include a pleasant ‘Suite-Concertino’ for bassoon and orchestra.

This new disc demonstrates well over thirty years of Wolf-Ferrari’s development but what is always clear is that he could write highly memorable tunes and colour them with vivid orchestration. The best-known pieces are the rather balletic Intermezzo from The Jewels of the Madonna and the Susanna’s Secret overture, but also of especial note is the beautiful Prelude to Il Campiello (‘The Little Square’) which is set in Venice and which was played, and partially, at least, sung, at his funeral in Venice. I would also highlight the Intermezzo from I quatro rusteghi (The School for Fathers).

Wolf-Ferrari’s style and language began with the world of Venetian comedy and the music is suitably lightweight, ‘opera buffa’ in fact, as in I quatro rusteghi.  By 1911, the composer had briefly ventured into verismo opera, as in The Jewels of the Madonna. By the time we reach L’amore medico (Doctor Cupid) in 1913, we find a greater sophistication of harmony and orchestration, and with Il campiello we find an almost Impressionistic opening Prelude and a real feeling for a more modern, coloured harmony.  Haider and his orchestra fully understand how to capture these moods and styles. Wolf-Ferrari’s favoured stories for these opera plots were often taken from the Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793), although L’amore medico is based on a story by Molière, L’amour médecin.

There is a useful and concise essay in the booklet by the conductor Friedrich Haider. A curiosity, however, as I have made clear above, is that although some of these recordings are taken from already released discs, others seem to have been hanging around in the Naxos archive for some years. I wonder why?

Gary Higginson

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