WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

Catalani: Ero e Leandro... / La Vecchia, Rome

Catalani / Orchestra Sinfonica Di Roma
Release Date: 01/28/2014 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8573072  
Composer:  Alfredo Catalani
Conductor:  Francesco La Vecchia
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Rome Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 0 Hours 54 Mins. 

Low Stock: Currently 3 or fewer in stock. Usually ships in 24 hours, unless stock becomes depleted.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

CATALANI Ero e Leandro. Scherzo. Andantino. Contemplazione. Il Mattino “Sinfonia romantica” Francesco La Vecchia, cond; Roma SO NAXOS 8.573072 (54:48)

Due to his premature death at age 39 from tuberculosis, Alfredo Catalani (1854–1893) is one of the tragic near misses for musical immortality. In his finals years, after four earlier and promising but flawed efforts, he produced one very creditable opera, Read more Loreley , followed by a stunning masterpiece, La Wally , which unfortunately and unjustly remains known almost solely for a single “hit” aria, “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana.” The quality of his surviving works, and their trajectory toward ever greater excellence, suggest that had he lived a normal lifespan, he might have ranked alongside Verdi and Puccini in the pantheon of operatic masters—at the very least, equal to or ahead of Mascagni, Giordano, Leoncavallo, and similar figures. (Certainly, Toscanini thought so, going to the extreme of naming two of his children after characters from Catalani’s operas.)

Equally unfortunately, the handful of recordings that have been made of his operas and other works have not done them justice, being generally cast with inadequate or over-the-hill singers and provincial orchestras. (The one truly great performance, the 1968 American Opera Society presentation of La Wally with Renata Tebaldi and Carlo Bergonzi, was released on the long defunct Intaglio label; it should be hunted down by anyone who cares about the work.) While this release does not rectify that lamentable situation with respect to Catalani’s operas, the most significant part of his compositional output, it does provide us with solid performances of five of his orchestral compositions. While none of these works is great music, all are at least worth hearing, being typical of their composer and pointing to the genius that would be fully realized in his final stage works.

Lyricism is, of course, a given and expected trait when one looks to Italian opera composers of the Romantic and verismo periods and styles. That said, there are distinct approaches to that lyricism. Verdi and his contemporaries represent an earlier stylistic school, in which phrases within arias tend to be more symmetrical and strophically defined, and emotional expression is more Classically poised. Puccini and the verists who came later, by contrast, composed arias whose lines follow more irregular patterns, and where the emotional passion is uninhibited. Catalani falls somewhere between the two. While chronologically he belongs to the verist period, and his melodic lines partake to some degree of their more free-flowing nature, there is a good deal of Classical restraint in his style; inflections are more subtle, and there is none of the sheer gaucherie to which the verists often fell prey. Generally, his music is more introspective, infused with a gentle melancholy and reflectiveness, retaining a certain elegance even in climactic outbursts. Indeed, the greater subtlety of Catalani’s music in comparison to that of his confreres may largely account for its failure to gain a greater foothold in the affections of the opera-going public.

All of the aforementioned traits are on full display in the works presented here. The earliest of them, a brief Andantino dating from about 1871 when the composer was only 17, was one of his first works to be published and attract favorable notice. Composed in rondo form, it shows confident command of that idiom, and the opening musical material is already redolent of the atmospheric music that Catalani would use to invoke the Swiss Alps in La Wally two decades later. The equally brief Scherzo in A from 1878 belies its jocund title, savoring instead of an almost minuet-like decorum. Both works also exist in versions for piano, which are most likely their original guises. The aptly-named Contemplazione , also from 1878, is a more substantial piece (11:35 in this recording); it is a mostly quiet and dream-like nocturne cast broadly in A-B-A form.

The two most formidable works here are separated by the interval of a decade. Il Mattino (Morning), dating from 1874, is one of at least three attempts the youthful composer made at a symphony; the other two are a companion work, La Notte (Night), and a previous Sinfonia from 1872. It opens with a brief slow introduction on the woodwinds before segueing to a somewhat faster allegro section in a still moderate tempo. While the thematic material is unmistakably of an Italianate cast, Catalani here clearly has his eyes set on formal models from north of the Alps, particularly Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms. In this case he struggles, somewhat unsuccessfully, to make grandly weighty musical gestures, which come off as rather commonplace instead, though I have a sense that a considerably more lively tempo would be more apt and could remedy that perception, at least in part.

Ero e Leandro , Catalani’s one attempt at a symphonic poem, followed in 1884. It depicts the ancient Greek myth of the illicit love between the youth Leander of the city of Abados, and Ero (Hero), the vestal virgin priestess of Venus held in a tower in the city of Sestos on the other side of the strait of the Hellespont (Dardanelles). Each night, guided by a lamp suspended by Ero in the tower, Leander swims the strait to join her in nightly ecstasies of love. (Inspired by the myth, Lord Byron replicated this feat and swam the channel in four hours in 1810, an event commemorated first by his subsequent poem and then by an annual swimming event.) One night, as Leander attempts to return home, a storm puts out the lamp, and he loses his way in the waters and drowns. His body washes up on the shore in sight of Ero, who then hurtles herself from the tower to her own death. At age 30, the composer has now arrived at full stylistic maturity. The thematic material, variously depicting the undulations and storms of the sea, the strenuous swimming of Leander, and the amorous passion between him and Ero, is well integrated into a seamless flow of ongoing variations supported by masterly orchestration. Stylistically it also shows the composer charting his own original path; while there is a distant kinship in spirit with the tone poems of Dvo?ák and Tchaikovsky, Catalani is now definitely his own man, setting an example that would later flow into the orchestral works of figures such as Respighi and Casella.

The recordings of the Andantino and Il Mattino are advertised as being world premieres. The other three works were previously issued on a Bongiovanni CD, with performances by Silvano Frontalini and the Warmia National Orchestra (a Polish ensemble) that David Johnson accorded a rather tepid review back in 15:1. Riccardo Muti and the orchestra of La Scala recorded the Scherzo and Contemplazione for Sony in 1998, a disc that Bernard Jacobson endorsed in 22:1; one wishes that Muti had taken on Ero and Leandro as well or instead. There is no question that the members of the Roma Symphony have this idiom in their blood, and play with style and commitment, and they are abetted by recorded sound that is clear and spacious but not overly resonant. My one reservation is that, while I don’t have a basis for comparison, I have a clear sense that the major works on this disc require a firmer, more energetic hand at the podium than Francesco La Vecchia provides. However, unless Muti, Gianandrea Noseda, or a figure of similar stature decides to take this music in hand (how about a disc with Ero and Leandro, Contemplazione , and all three of Catalani’s symphonies?), this is perforce the preferred choice for those who want recordings of the two major works and the Andantino . Recommended to specialists in the narrow niche of Romantic Italian symphonic repertoire.

FANFARE: James A. Altena
Read less

Works on This Recording

Scherzo by Alfredo Catalani
Conductor:  Francesco La Vecchia
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Rome Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878 
Ero e Leandro by Alfredo Catalani
Conductor:  Francesco La Vecchia
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Rome Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1884 
Contemplazione by Alfredo Catalani
Conductor:  Francesco La Vecchia
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Rome Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878; Italy 
Andantino in A Major by Alfredo Catalani
Conductor:  Francesco La Vecchia
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Rome Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: ?1871 
Il Mattino "Sinfonia romantica" by Alfredo Catalani
Conductor:  Francesco La Vecchia
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Rome Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 Outstanding Recording July 2, 2014 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "This very fine recording is another example of Naxos' on-going and commendable efforts to bring to life the works of largely unknown or underappreciated Italian composers. What we discover here is the obvious high merit in the orchestral writing of Alfredo Catalani. Composed mainly in the last quarter of the 19th century, Catalani's works display a great sophistication in terms of lyrical themes and dynamic orchestration. The five compositions on this disk vary in length from 5 to 18 minutes, and each shows a distinct character- the lushly late Romantic symphonic poem Ero e Leandro and the gorgeous, quietly expressed Contemplazione being obvious examples. Francesco LaVecchia and the Rome Symphony Orchestra give a performance that never fails us; indeed, I am inclined to think that the RSO is the perfect orchestra to showcase the qualities of Italian composers about whom most of us know very little. You can count on this recording's consistent artistic merit- it won't let you down. I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone interested in unfamiliar repertoire or very high quality." Report Abuse
 Opera Without Words April 11, 2014 By paul m. (simpsonville, SC) See All My Reviews "This is a great set of music by an opera composer. Ero e Leandro reminds me of Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini, not as dramatic but still wonderful and exciting. When hearing Contemplazione you want to just sit still and take in the beauty of the music, I do not think I will ever tire of listening to it as it brings a sense of peace to our busy lives. The remaining pieces are also nicely composed and lovely to hear." Report Abuse
Review This Title