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Goffredo Petrassi: Piano Concerto, Partita for Orchestra / Massa, Mueller, Gottinger Symphonie Orchester

Massa / Mueller / Gottinger Symphonie Orchester
Release Date: 03/25/2014 
Label:  Capriccio Records   Catalog #: 5155   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Goffredo Petrassi
Performer:  Pietro Massa
Conductor:  Christoph-mathias Mueller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gottinger Symphonie Orchester
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



PETRASSI Piano Concerto 1. La Follia di Orlando : Suite. Partita for Orchestra Arturo Tamayo, cond; 1 Alfonso Alberti (pn); RAI Natl SO STRADIVARIUS 33824 (69:13)


PETRASSI Piano Concerto 1. La Follia di Read more Orlando : Suite. Flute Concerto 2 Francesco La Vecchia, cond; 1 Bruno Canino (pn); 2 Mario Ancillotti (fl); Rome SO NAXOS 8.573073 (71:31)


PETRASSI Piano Concerto. 1 Partita for Piano. Toccata. Inventions 1 Christoph-Mathias Mueller, cond; 1 Göttinger SO; Pietro Massa (pn) CAPRICCIO 5155 (73:13)


Goffredo Petrassi was a significant Italian composer of the 20th century. His piano concerto, composed between 1936 and 1939, is a major work of his early Neoclassical phase, a time when an anonymous critic described his music as Hindemith tempered by Casella. (I don’t agree. Stravinsky has a stronger presence here than Casella, whose own music went through so many stylistic changes it is hard to say whether he influenced anybody at all.) Tonally the concerto resembles Petrassi’s first successful orchestral work, the Partita of 1932, and the contemporary Concerto for Orchestra No. 1––the first in a series of eight that chart the composer’s progress from the Neoclassicist of the 1930s to the atonal colorist of the 1970s. Petrassi dismissed his piano concerto in later life, and it could hardly be called representative, but the fact that three recordings of the work have recently appeared indicates its renewed appeal to musicians and concertgoers. The Stradivarius disc was issued back in 2012, and has already been reviewed in Fanfare , but I think it deserves a second look for purposes of comparison.


The piano concerto is in three movements: a busy opening Allegro , a succeeding Arietta with variations, and a comparatively short Róndo finale that finishes on a throwaway note––almost as if the composer had become a bit bored with it by the end. The Róndo is the weakest movement, but the long second movement is full of intricate musical development and atmospheric scoring.


Arturo Tamayo, who conducts the concerto for Stradivarius, has previous involvement with this composer: He conducted the complete set of concertos for orchestra (which, as I have said before, is a mandatory purchase for 20th-century music lovers). He and his Italian radio orchestra give a robust performance in bright sound, but one that is fully alive to moments of lyricism and repose, so the first movement never seems relentless. Neither is pianist Alfonso Alberti too rigid in the repetitive figuration, uncovering hidden depths in the Arietta––a long solo in triple time recalling the central movement of Ravel’s G-Major Concerto. Alberti is free and thoughtful in the slow variations, while he and Tamayo bring a playful quality to the Stravinskian march variation. Their Róndo is dispatched with point if not charm, and the performance overall is sharp and bitingly “modern.”


The first thing one notices in the Naxos performance is the distant balance and opaque sound of the Rome Symphony Orchestra, which is partially responsible for a comparative lack of character. The latter quality arrives with the entrance of Bruno Canino, whose quicksilver pianism offers a detailed view of the solo part, but the piano sound itself is similarly dull, particularly in the upper register. Orchestral detail is frequently obscured in the balance. Canino brings a music-box flavor to the Arietta waltz, which is most attractive, and his trills are faster than Alberti’s, emphasizing the Neoclassical element. While conductor Francesco La Vecchia takes no longer for the second movement than Tamayo (La Vecchia is one second longer, to be precise), the lack of urgency in this performance suggests the composer is filling in time, notably in the first orchestral variation. Canino’s pointed playing saves the day to some extent, but the orchestra is mushy and unfocussed. Where this reading shines is in the final Róndo: Canino and La Vecchia take more time to establish the music’s quirkiness and as a result it feels more satisfying as a finale.


The third version, by Pietro Massa with the Göttinger Symphony Orchestra (which I had never heard before now), under Christoph-Mathias Mueller, treats the concerto as a big, mainstream, virtuoso work. Timing tells the story: Their slow movement at 14:21 is almost a minute and a half longer than either of the other versions, and much of that time is spent in Massa’s sensitive, highly Romantic reading of the opening solo. Overall his playing is muscular and fluent, certainly impressive, but generalized in comparison to Alberti and Canino. (Or less interventionist? Depends how you listen to it.) The orchestral sound, however, is unquestionably superior. It makes Tamayo’s tight band sound a little rough in timbre, and confirms La Vecchia’s orchestra as a distant also-ran.


Massa’s disc is one of a series covering 20th-century Italian piano music. Earlier issues, well received in these pages, include concertos by Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Dallapiccola. His Petrassi Concerto is coupled with solo piano works: a four-movement partita, written at the age of 22 (not the same as the orchestral partita); an elaborate, multi-faceted toccata from 1933; and eight Inventions (1942–44) that begin to show the composer moving into new tonal fields. Massa comes into his own in the solo works, his playing alive with dash and color. The Toccata and the First Invention ( Presto volante ) are genuine showpieces, replete with rapid scales, repeated notes, and other such devices. Massa’s renditions are appropriately brilliant. He brings out an unexpected link to Shostakovich in the Inventions, some of which are very like the latter’s Preludes, op. 34, not only in their contrapuntal clarity but also in the shape of their themes. As in the concerto, Massa’s piano is beautifully recorded.


Both the Stradivarius and Naxos discs pair the concerto with a suite from the ballet La Follia di Orlando, dating from 1942–43 and based on Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando furioso (as were operas by Vivaldi and Handel). The suite consists of an introduction and four dances from the ballet. Here the Rome SO on Naxos is less flabby in music that echoes the dance scores of Prokofiev without their distinctive personality. Again, however, the greater punch, precision and presence of the RAI National Orchestra on Stradivarius leave the other team behind.


What the Naxos program does have to offer is the 20-minute flute concerto of 1960, a work showing Petrassi at a much later stage of his musical journey. This is the best-recorded piece on the disc, with the orchestra providing plenty of atmosphere and Mario Ancillotti well on top of the virtuoso demands of the solo part. Whether this extra item tips the scale is a matter of contention: The piece, Petrassi’s only other concerto for a solo instrument, may strike some listeners as nothing more than atonal doodling over a background of long-held orchestral chords. The textures are always interesting, and harmonic tension arises periodically, but in the end this flute concerto leaves a pale impression. The early orchestral partita is more worthwhile (on the Stradivarius disc): a joyful work, very much of its period, even featuring a hint of jazziness in its opening movement (Gagliarda) in the form of a sultry alto saxophone.


To sum up, Petrassi’s piano concerto is characterful and enjoyable, no matter how the composer eventually viewed it. Massa’s reading is very well played but somewhat conventional; his disc is worth getting for the solo works. Alberti and Tamayo are my pick, and their program is also the most colorful. Despite the addition of the flute concerto, and Canino’s crisp pianism, the Naxos disc is out of the running in this company.


FANFARE: Phillip Scott    
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Works on This Recording

1. Toccata for Piano by Goffredo Petrassi
Performer:  Pietro Massa (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
2. Partita for Orchestra by Goffredo Petrassi
Conductor:  Christoph-mathias Mueller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gottinger Symphonie Orchester
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932 
3. Invenzioni for Piano by Goffredo Petrassi
Performer:  Pietro Massa (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944 
4. concerto for Piano by Goffredo Petrassi
Performer:  Pietro Massa (Piano)
Conductor:  Christoph-mathias Mueller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gottinger Symphonie Orchester
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936-1939 

Sound Samples

Piano Concerto: I. Non molto mosso, ma energico
Piano Concerto: II. Arietta con variazioni: Molto adagio e tranquillo
Piano Concerto: III. Rondo: Andantino mosso - Allegro agitato
Partita for Piano: I. Preludio
Partita for Piano: II. Aria
Partita for Piano: III. Gavotta
Partita for Piano: IV. Giga
Toccata
Invenzioni for piano: I. Presto volante
Invenzioni for piano: II. Moderato - Piu presto, quasi allegro
Invenzioni for piano: III. Presto leggero
Invenzioni for piano: IV. Moderatamente mosso, scorrevole
Invenzioni for piano: V. Andantino, non molto mosso e sereno
Invenzioni for piano: VI. Tranquillo
Invenzioni for piano: VII. Scorrevole
Invenzioni for piano: VIII. Allegretto e grazioso

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