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Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Shakespeare Overtures, Vol. 2 / Penny, West Australian Symphony

Castelnuovo-tedesco / Waso / Penny
Release Date: 10/26/2010 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572501   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO Overtures: As You Like It; The Merchant of Venice; Much Ado About Nothing; King John; The Winter’s Tale Andrew Penny, cond; West Australian SO NAXOS 8.572501 (59:12)


Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1968) wrote a lot more than guitar music, even though he is mostly remembered for his First Guitar Concerto. Mentored by Casella and Pizzetti, the Jewish Italian was already celebrated as a composer when he escaped Mussolini’s Italy to head for California. The Read more extent of his fame may be gathered by the fact that a commission for a violin concerto immediately followed from Heifitz, and Toscanini continued to champion his work. Having settled in Hollywood, he plunged into film composing, not neglecting his concert output, and taught such future luminaries as Henry Mancini and John Williams. He had always been fascinated by Shakespeare’s plays and wrote two complete operas based on them, many settings of Shakespearean lyrics, and 11 concert overtures, of which five may be heard on this release. (The disc is designated Volume 2; the remaining six overtures appear in Volume 1.)


With the exception of the rollicking King John (1941), the overtures are more in the nature of episodic tone poems, replete with the full harmonies and lavish orchestrations familiar from 1940s film music. The episodes within each work are prefaced by quotations from the play; these sections each express a general mood rather than forming a dramatic arc or storyline. The comedies As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing include chirpy pastoral episodes, dominated by woodwinds, while the latter’s middle section consists of a funeral march inspired by Claudio’s call, “Now music, sound, and sing your solemn hymn.” The turbulent Merchant of Venice Overture (1933) features a recurring theme with a Hebraic melodic twist (representing Shylock) and maintains a good deal of dramatic tension throughout—not surprising in view of the composer’s circumstances at the time. The most individual work in this collection is the overture to The Winter’s Tale (1935), appropriately, since the play is one of Shakespeare’s quirkiest. The overture begins pastorally but the wintry atmospherics soon lead into a tarantella built around the figure of a falling semitone—very reminiscent of Pizzetti (in particular his Rondò Veneziano ). A sad cello theme dominates the middle section; it too undergoes some variation before the tarantella returns for the close. Castelnuovo-Tedesco effectively captures the wide contrasts in the play between comedy and tragedy, and between the nobility and the peasantry.


The overture to As You Like It (1953) is alternately jaunty and courtly, and it is clear at the conclusion that “journeys end in lovers meeting.” This is one of two of these works previously recorded, in this case by Robert Whitney and the Louisville Orchestra (to whom it was dedicated). That LP is long gone. King John was recorded by its dedicatee, John Barbirolli, and the New York Philharmonic in a vintage performance reissued by Guild two years ago. Fanfare ’s Barry Brenesal dispatched the work as “pleasant if thoroughly unmemorable” (31:6); I agree to the extent that it is less varied than its companions on the new disc.


In mid 1994 I was involved with a recording session with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, and I remember reading on the schedule that it had taped some of these overtures the previous week. A couple of the orchestra members told me how much they enjoyed playing the music, which they had never heard before and had prepared in a hurry. I was intrigued and made a mental note to buy the disc. Well, better late than never! Sixteen years on, the recordings have finally been released. Why they were in the Naxos vault for all that time I have no idea. The performances are neat and even passionate when required; the orchestra is set at a slight distance but all its sections are clearly balanced by conductor Andrew Penny (best known for his excellent Naxos set of the Malcolm Arnold symphonies). The rushed taping circumstances are by no means discernible—a tribute to the musicians’ skill and high standards. If this disc is tempting, you have no reason to hesitate. I will certainly be getting hold of Volume 1.


FANFARE: Phillip Scott


This second release in Naxos' two-disc series of Castelnuovo-Tedesco's complete overtures inspired by various Shakespeare plays fills a serious gap in the catalog. Written largely after the composer (who was Jewish) escaped fascist Italy and subsequently established himself successfully in Hollywood, the music is wonderful. Much of it, naturally, has a "film music" sort of sound, but in these enlightened times there's no longer anything wrong with that. Castelnuovo-Tedesco called these pieces "overtures", but they are really closer to symphonic poems or suites, based on particular episodes of each play (and even specific speeches).

As the above list of titles suggests, most of these are comedies, and the music is correspondingly light and tuneful. It's also very nice to see music inspired by Shakespeare's less familiar works. The composer does manage to strike a deeper note in The Merchant of Venice, which is also the longest work on the program, and the exuberant scoring for large orchestra is always effective. So are these performances, which are very attractive and confident, particularly given the unfamiliarity of the music (there are several world-premiere recordings made from manuscript copies of the scores). The sonics perhaps could offer a touch more clarity and dynamic range, but they certainly do the music justice. Strongly recommended.

--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
As You Like It, Op. 166 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953 
2.
The Merchant of Venice, Op. 76 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933 
3.
Much Ado about Nothing, Op. 164 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953 
4.
King John, Op. 111 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1941; USA 
5.
The Winter's Tale, Op. 80 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935 

Sound Samples

As You Like It, Op. 166
Il mercante di Venezia (The Merchant of Venice), Op. 76
Much Ado about Nothing, Op. 164
King John, Op. 111
Il racconto d'inverno (The Winter's Tale), Op. 80

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