WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Shakespeare Overtures Vol 1 / Penny, West Australian Symphony

Castelnuovo-tedesco / West Australian So / Penny
Release Date: 09/28/2010 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572500   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO Julius Caesar, op. 78. The Taming of the Shrew, op. 61. Antony and Cleopatra, op. 134. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, op. 108. The Tragedy of Coriolanus, op. 135. Twelfth Night, op. 73 Andrew Penny, cond; West Australian SO Read more NAXOS 8.572500 (65:07)

Who knew that Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote overtures to 11 of Shakespeare’s plays? Not I and apparently not many others either, as every one of the works on this disc is claimed to be a world premiere recording. Naxos labels it Volume 1, so a companion CD containing the remaining five overtures— The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It, The Winter’s Tale , and King John —is expected.

If you know Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1968) by anything other than his famous D-Major Guitar Concerto, possibly his Violin Concerto titled “The Prophets,” and perhaps a few of his Jewish-themed choral works included in the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music project distributed on Naxos, you’re doing better than I am. Here is a composer with a catalog of more than 200 works—and that’s just the ones with opus numbers—who has simply never achieved recognition commensurate with the volume and quality of his output.

His “sin,” no more and no less than that of his close Italian contemporaries—Casella, Pizzetti, Malipiero, and Respighi—was to be born at a time and place where composing music in a late-Romantic and Impressionist style was regarded as regressive and reactionary by the modernists elsewhere on the Continent. Of this group, only Respighi seems to have enjoyed more or less permanent staying power. But Castelnuovo-Tedesco (hereinafter referred to as C-T for short) struggled against a second bias. Under Mussolini, Italy’s Jews may not have suffered the same fate as did their German, Austrian, and Polish co-religionists under Hitler, but fascist Italy was still not the friendliest place for a Jewish composer.

So in 1938, C-T left for the U.S., where he soon found work, as did so many other composers who fled Europe in those years, in the film industry. MGM Studios embraced him with open arms, and over the next several years he contributed to the scores of more than 200 films, all the while continuing to compose concert music. He became one of the most sought-after composition teachers in Los Angeles, taking on as students André Previn, Henry Mancini, and John Williams.

The first impression to strike one about these Shakespeare overtures is their made-for-the-movies character. This is not intended to be uncomplimentary; rather, it’s an observation of the vividly colored orchestration and the sweeping cinematic panoramas the music seems to encompass. Of the 11 overtures, six of them were written after C-T had arrived in the U.S. and taken up with the Hollywood crowd. Three of these— A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1940), Antony and Cleopatra (1947), and The Tragedy of Coriolanus (1947)—are on this volume. The earliest numbers—i.e., the five written while C-T was still in Italy—were The Taming of the Shrew (1930), followed by Twelfth Night (1933), The Merchant of Venice (1933), Julius Caesar (1934), and The Winter’s Tale (1935).

All of the overtures were conceived as stand-alone concert works, not as curtain-raisers to operas or incidental music to staged productions of the plays, and not as film music to accompany the rolling of the opening credits. As such, C-T’s overtures avoid storytelling; they do not attempt in a few minutes’ time to telescope the action of the plots. Instead, they take their cue from one or more specific events in the plays and develop a strictly musical narrative around them. This downplays programmatic associations and lends each overture a sense of structural integrity as a complete entity unto itself, worked out entirely in formal musical terms.

Over time, the overtures grew, not necessarily in length—though the 1947 Antony and Cleopatra expanded to nearly 18 minutes—but in ambition of orchestration. Where the 1930 Taming of the Shrew employs strings, double woodwinds, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, harp, piano, and percussion—hardly a modest-sized orchestra—the later overtures triple the winds and add English horn, contrabassoon, tuba, a second harp, tubular bells, glockenspiel, castanets, and a battery of various drums. Moreover, augmented string sections now find their parts frequently divided, and section leaders are highlighted in many striking solo passages. “The more grandiloquent moments,” observe Andrew Penny and Graham Wade in their booklet note, “anticipate the epic sweep of Miklós Rózsa’s film scores for Ben Hur or Quo Vadis of the 1950s.”

While certain parallels may exist, it should be emphasized that C-T’s overtures are serious symphonic works. They are not the stuff of movie soundtracks or, in arrangements, of summer-evening pops concerts. They are, however, not truly of their time—a statement that could apply to Respighi as well—in that they are big, bold, brightly painted musical billboards in a post-Romantic/Impressionist style that feature many of the same exoticisms and techniques one hears in scores like Respighi’s Roman Trilogy.

I take Naxos at its word that these are world premiere recordings; therefore, it is taken as an article of faith that other versions for comparison purposes do not exist. No matter, for the performances here by Andrew Penny and his West Australian Symphony Orchestra sound aces to me, and the recording has plenty of headroom for maximum impact in the music’s most massively scored passages. I can’t imagine why anyone would not be taken with these highly attractive scores. Definitely recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins

Thank God Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream doesn't sound anything like Mendelssohn: it's just a luscious bit of late-Romantic impressionism, and it's as lovely as it is concise. The big piece here is Antony and Cleopatra, nearly 18 exotic minutes of it, sounding rather like, well, the 1963 film score to Antony and Cleopatra (which was by Alex North, actually). The fact is that Castelnuovo-Tedesco had quite a successful career in Hollywood after swapping the fascism of his native Italy for the escapism of sunny California. The Taming of the Shrew is charming and witty, Coriolanus suitably somber, and Twelfth Night, rather like the play itself, mysterious and curiously elusive. All of the music is well played by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Penny--there are a few moments of iffy ensemble, but nothing to worry about, and the sonics are suitably vivid. Very enjoyable indeed.

– David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

1. Giulio Cesare, Op. 78 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934 
2. La bisbetica domata, Op. 61 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; Italy 
3. Antony and Cleopatra, Op. 134 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947 
4. A Midsummer Night's Dream Op. 108 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; USA 
5. The Tragedy of Coriolanus, Op. 135 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947 
6. La dodicesima notte, Op. 73 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933 

Sound Samples

Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar), Op. 78
La bisbetica domata (The Taming of the Shrew), Op. 61
Antony and Cleopatra, Op. 134
A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 108
The Tragedy of Coriolanus, Op. 135
La dodicesima notte (Twelfth Night), Op. 73

Customer Reviews

Be the first to review this title
Review This Title
Review This Title Share on Facebook