ALFANO Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano. Cello Sonata • Samuel Magill (vc); Scott Dunn (pn); Elmira Darvarova (vn) • NAXOS 8.570928 (60: 06)
These days Franco Alfano (1875–1954) is remembered more for his controversial and much maligned 1926 completion of Puccini’s Turandot than for his own well-crafted and often quite striking music. His career started promisingly. In 1904, his opera Risurrezione,Read more based on Tolstoy’s last full-length novel, made him internationally famous (see Henry Fogel’s review in Fanfare 28:4). In 1918, he rose to the directorship of Liceo Musicale, Bologna, and two years later helped to found the society Musica Nova. His career remained on the ascendancy until 1926, when Toscanini’s de facto damnation of his completion of Turandot made him an odd man out in Italian music. Add to this that two of his contemporaries, Malipiero and Respighi, were changing the focus of Italian music from opera to purely instrumental, while Alfano continued doggedly in the operatic realm with Madonna imperia (1927), Cyrano de Bergerac (1936), Don Juan de Manara (1941), Il dottor Antonia (1949), Vesuvius (1950), and Sakùntala (1952). Then further add that Alfano was on favorable terms with Mussolini’s fascist government and one has a pretty good recipe for his subsequent obscurity.
Then there is the music itself, as illustrated by these two chamber works—soft edged, introspective, and quietly luminous in a most Debussian manner. Cellist Samuel Magill, in his liner notes to this release, points out that Alfano was half French (on his maternal side), and spent the years from 1899 until about 1905 in Paris, where he composed light music for the Folies Bergère. It is plain from these two pieces that he soaked up the atmosphere and found it most congenial. The earlier of these two works, the Cello Sonata, was commissioned in 1928 by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. It is a tour de force in its exploitation of the cello’s full compass and coloristic possibilities. The high A-string writing makes it seem a super violin, and the use of harmonics in combination with quiet sustaining pedaled piano figurations creates moments that would have made both Ravel and Debussy proud. It is a long and discursive work that opens serenely, as if to say “I will reveal a great mystery,” and then travels from the elementally abstract toward the more and more intelligible; unfathomable mystery gives way to unbridled passion, and then to a moment of sublime peace.
The Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano of 1932 is similar to the Cello Sonata, but given the third instrument, the violin, it is richer in tonal possibilities. Its opening revealing a kinship with Renaissance polyphony, indeed farther back than that, shows how easily those languages can dovetail into that of the French Impressionists. Alfano, like Bruckner and Brahms, was an antiquarian. In both of these works, Debussy’s idea that pure sonority should be an element of music equal with melody, harmony, and rhythm, is writ large.
All three performers are excellent and play with razor-edged accuracy, passion, and insight in these two world-premiere recordings. The recording, alas, is harsh in its upper register, requiring treble cut on my system, but, on the other hand, it reveals everything, as if under a microscope. The piano, however, is splendidly registered throughout.
Concerto for Violin, Cello and Pianoby Franco Alfano
Elmira Darvarova (Violin),
Scott Dunn (Piano),
Samuel Magill (Cello)
Period: 20th Century Length: 28 Minutes 29 Secs.
Sonata for Cello and Pianoby Franco Alfano
Scott Dunn (Piano),
Samuel Magill (Cello)
Period: 20th Century Length: 31 Minutes 32 Secs.
Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano: I. Con dolce malinconia
Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano: II. Allegretto fantastico
Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano: III. Presto
Cello Sonata: I. Assai lento
Cello Sonata: II. Allegretto con grazia
Cello Sonata: III. Presto, appassionato
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Worthy EffortApril 10, 2014By Henry S. (Springfield, VA)See All My Reviews"The two works on this disk date from the mid-1920's (Cello Sonata) and early 1930's (Concerto). Italian composer Franco Alfano's music is as intriguing as his reputation is obscure, which is all the more reason to investigate his works. The concerto is actually a 'free form' piano trio, by which I mean its appeal comes more from its shifting moods and tempos than from any formal structure, which is essentially lacking. The more weighty work (in my view) is the striking Cello Sonata, with its two 12-minute outer movements wrapped around a short, graceful Allegretto middle movement. Perhaps the most 'striking' (to use my term again) aspect of the sonata is its dramatic ending, an extended descent into despair and oblivion, almost in the manner of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony. All 3 performers on this recording are excellent, as is Naxos' sonic qualities. In my view, Franco Alfano has produced effective, if slightly less than brilliant chamber music here, and Naxos has done a creditable job recording and presenting it."Report Abuse
Alfano work is a delightful surpriseJanuary 8, 2013By Emil Franzi (Tucson, AZ)See All My Reviews"I wondered why Alfano's Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano wasn't just called a piano trio until I heard it! It is a glorious piece of music that actually does transcend the latter definition! And the Cello Sonata is also a fine work. NAXOS has done a great service by recording not only some obscure works of Respighi, but showering us lately with the music of his Italian contemporaries - Alfano, Casella, Castelnuevo-Tedesco, Malpiero and Pizetti. These composers fill a large piece of early and mid 20th Century music of which these two works are only a small but delightful part. BIS! And I don't just refer to the record label. Emil Franzi, Tucson"Report Abuse