Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Delightful neo-classical music from Italy


In Italy in the first half of the 20th century it would have been a natural impulse to think back to calmer and more civilized times. For the orchestral composer Italy's glories were some centuries in the past, during the hey-day of Corelli, Vivaldi and Locatelli. Thus three of our composers, Alfredo Casella, Giorgio Federico Ghedini and Gian Francesco Malipiero, shared a common neo-classical or neo-Baroque style with occasional forays into more modern passages, staying away, though from full-blown modernism. The tone is serene and humane, with much use of Baroque dance forms and rhythms, and the orchestration is open and light. Casella's Divertimento for Fulvia is an orchestral adaptation of his own Eleven Children's Pieces for piano, written as a ballet in 1940 and dedicated to his daughter. In this way it's rather similar to Villa-Lobos's Momoprecoce of 1921, an orchestration of his Carnaval das Criancas for piano, but it most closely resembles Stravinsky's 1919 pastiche of Italian Baroque music, Pulcinella. This is not to mention the closer-to-home example of Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances. Whatever the influences, this is very appealing music. Ghedini's Concerto grosso from 1927 has a similar kind of wit and simple, down-to-earth delight in melody, tempered though by slight Teutonic influences, of Beethoven and Richard Strauss especially. Malipiero's slight Imaginary Orient is atmospheric, with occasional chromatic passages denoting the Mysteries of the East, but it remains as rooted in nostalgia as Casella and Ghedini's works.

With the much younger composer Franco Donatoni's Music for Chamber Orchestra we enter a different sound world. This is delightful and appealing twelve-tone music, written after a stint at the 1954 Summer School for New Music at Darmstadt. Delightful and appealing twelve-tone music? It's true! Donatoni can thus be placed with his contemporaries Nono, Maderna and Berio, but also with the older composers on this disc, who share a common facility and Italian verve. Of the four works on the disc, all but the Casella are recording premieres, and all four are well played by the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana under Damian Iorio. This disc will be released on January 13, 2017.

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