Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concerto in e,
“Piccolo mondo antico.”
Piano Concerto in D?
Ana Cláudia Girotto (pn); Elena Herrera, cond; Cordoba O
LINDORO 101 (77:31)
Nino Rota (1911–1979) is one those composers, like recently deceased Gian Carlo Menotti, born the same year, that fell between generational cracks. Having studied in Milan with Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880–1968), Rota is an extension of the late 19th- and
early 20th-century generation of Italian composers that included Respighi (1879–1936), Malipiero (1882–1973), and Wolf-Ferrari (1876–1948). He stood at the intersection between the old-guard and the avant-garde; in age, just young enough to have joined the ranks of Luigi Nono (1924–1990) and Luciano Berio (1925–2003), but in musical temperament, just old enough to look back with nostalgia on his Romantic heritage.
It is not surprising that both Menotti and Rota, out of step with the more radical camp, sought outlets for their considerable creative talents mainly outside of elitist “serious” music circles. For Rota that outlet became the motion picture and television industry. Between 1933 and the year of his death, 1979, he wrote scores for and contributed to at least 100 screen productions, including Francis Ford Coppola’s
series and Franco Zeffirelli’s
Romeo and Juliet
. Rota’s association with famed film director Federico Fellini was especially noteworthy, resulting in scores for
81?2, Juliet of the Spirits, La strada, Satyricon, and La dolce vita
. Like Korngold, however, Rota was determined to leave a legacy of purely instrumental and symphonic concert works, to which end he composed three symphonies that have been recorded, sonatas for violin, viola, and for flute and harp, string quartets, a wind nonet, a considerable volume of solo piano pieces, and at least 10 concertos for various instruments.
Rota’s 1978 E-Minor Piano Concerto recorded here is one of two he wrote for the instrument. Its subtitle or subtext, “little world of antiquity,” is indeed curious, for there is nothing diminutive or archaic about it. This is a big, three-movement romantic concerto with Grieg, Gershwin, and Greta Garbo nipping at its heels, and not a whiff of Respighi’s “ancient airs.” If you love the emotional rush of sweeping orchestral movie music set to tragic melodramas, and a thrillingly virtuoso solo piano part, Rota’s concerto is guaranteed to reduce you to blubbering and drooling. Such is the power of music to utter abstract sounds that have no material meaning and yet to make us weep. I prefer Girotto’s performance and Lindoro’s recording to that of Massimo Palumbo on Chandos; but I prefer the latter’s coupling that gives us Rota’s C-Major Piano Concerto in place of the too frequently recorded and sometimes critically derided D-Flat Concerto of Aram Khachaturian.
Completed in 1936 and premiered by Lev Oborin, Khachaturian’s concerto, written more than 40 years before Rota’s, is melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically more modernistic, but still closely tied to the romantic tradition and style of writing that we hear in the concertos of Rachmaninoff and Gershwin. Being of Armenian extraction, however, Khachaturian’s melodies, harmonies, and rhythms are of a more ethnically flavored, folkloristic bent than are those of the cosmopolitan Russian, Rachmaninoff. This issue’s quiz consists of two questions, to which I will give you the answer to the first. What exotic instrument does Khachaturian make use of in the concerto’s second movement? The answer is the flexatone, a percussion oddity that produces its sound by means of wood beaters shaken on a metal sheet. You’re on your own to come up with the answer to the second question: what other composers employed a flexatone and in which of their compositions? Surprisingly more than you might think.
This is a fine and satisfying performance of a piece that in my opinion has little if any substance to it. If you are so inclined, you can hear it played, albeit on a recording made in 1946, by the pianist who premiered it 10 years earlier, Lev Oborin. William Kapell, another early advocate for the concerto, recorded it more than once, but most notably also in 1946, with Koussevitzsky and the Boston Symphony. Sad to say, I’m not familiar with either of these recordings, the one and only version I’ve had of the piece in my collection prior to the arrival of this new one being a modern stereo recording with pianist Alberto Portugheis joined by Loris Tjeknavorian conducting the London Symphony Orchestra on ASV. It is still available at a budget price. The main difference between Girotto and Portugheis is the timings. Portugheis is consistently faster, and considerably so in the last movement, which benefits the music’s
forward-driving momentum. It also gets it over with that much quicker.
Still, if you’re interested in Girotto’s CD, more than likely it’s going to be for the Rota, which will bring you no end of tearful pleasure.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano in D flat major by Aram Khachaturian
Ana Claudia Girotto (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1936; USSR
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