Nino Rota is, of course, best remembered for his film scores composed for some of the most celebrated directors of the second half of the 20th century including Fellini, Visconti and Coppola; and, indeed, all three works in this compilation have a film music genesis. But Rota also composed an appreciable number of works unconnected with the cinema including operas, ballets and other theatre music, choral music, four symphonies, a Concerto festivo for orchestra, a concerto for strings, a string quartet and a variety of chamber and piano pieces.
One of the composer's ballets was developed from his film score for Fellini's 1954 film, La Strada. Rota's ballet, in twelve tableaux, was staged, twelve years later, at La Scala, Milan. Subsequently, from it, Rota developed the symphonic suite that is recorded here. The music has all the circus/carnival bombast, comedy and glamour one associates with so many Fellini films contrasted with music of pathos and vulnerability for the pathetic clown Gelsomina and blacker material for the hot-tempered, cruel yet ultimately remorseful Zampanó. Rota's magical, 'technicolor' score includes the film's well-known romantically plaintive melody first announced most expressively by a solo violin before it is crushed by heavy Stravinsky-like staccato chords (very reminiscent of The Rites of Spring). Later the lovely theme is recapitulated almost in a bugle Last-Post-like dirge as tragedy overtakes. In addition, there are brass band processional figures (with some impressive fast tonguing) and sensual, swaggering Latin-inflected big band jazz figures to enjoy with the Orquesta cuidad de Granada entering into the spirit of the music with great enthusiasm. There have been a number of recordings of this heartfelt La Strada music but, for this reviewer, none more moving than this.
Rota's Concerto Soirée was premiered at the Teatro Olimpico in Vincenza in September 1962 with the composer as soloist. It contains two deliberate quotations from Rota's film music: the 'Romanza' (third movement) has a main theme from La Strada while the opening of the concluding 'Can-Can' is taken from music for Fellini's 8½. The first movement is in waltz-time, the novel piano writing alternating between a staccato percussive style and elusive impalpable arabesques; the movement pitches the abrasive against the delicate, the poignant rubbing shoulders with the grotesque; and there is a nod towards the spectres of Ravel's La Valse. The second movement is enchantment; it has the innocent appeal of childhood - a Ballo figurato with a 'Scotch snap' dotted rhythm. The third Romanza movement glitters; beautifully orchestrated, it is, for the most part, lyrical and tenderly plaintive and slightly Arabic/oriental in atmosphere. The fourth movement is so Fellini-like with those funny, cheeky little marches and figures again boldly orchestrated. The Can-Can has tonal ambiguity that adds atmosphere to what the author of the intelligent programme notes, Dinko Fabris, suggests might be musical associations with childhood fantasies such as Peter and the Wolf. This appealing and brilliantly coloured concerto is delivered with dash and élan.
Admirers of Visconti's masterpiece, Il gattopardo based on the remarkable novel about the stoicism of a Sicilian noble during the transforming events of the 19th Century Italian Risorgimento (in particular during and after the invasion of Garibaldi and his Red Shirts) by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, will remember the long, impressive ball sequence towards the end of the film. This collection includes sparkling performances of the seven enchanting dances used in that brilliantly photographed sequence. They are: the beautiful lilting Valzer (written by Verdi, orchestrated by Rota ); a proud yet perky Mazurka; a delicate, romantic Balleto. Allegro sostenuto; a bright, quick-stepping Polka; a merry high-spirited Quadriglia. Allegro; an enthusiastic Galop - one guesses for only the youngest most agile dancers - Allegro molto; and a final, tenderly romantic Valzer del Commiato.
Sparkling performances of magic. Recommended.