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Alfano: Violin Sonata, Piano Quintet, Nenia And Scherzino / Darvarova, Dunn, Mumm, Magill

Alfano / Darvarova / Dunn / Mumm
Release Date: 08/30/2011 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572753   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Franco Alfano
Performer:  Elmira DarvarovaScott DunnCraig MummMary Ann Mumm,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Considerable originality, dulcet, optimistic, indelible.

Franco Alfano (1875-1954) is remembered today for completing Puccini's unfinished opera Turandot, (1926). Alfano however had a considerable reputation as a composer during his lifetime. His music is rarely heard today. The chamber works on this album prominently feature the violin and are thoroughly within the late-romantic style endowed with lush, chromatic harmonies and lyrical melodic lines often soaring over turbulent accompaniment. In the quieter, mysterioso passages, Alfano's music is reminiscent of similar moments in Szymanowski and Scriabin. These works also have a certain theatrical dramatic nature, perhaps due to Alfano's experience as an opera composer.
Read more His opera "Cyrano de Bergerac" has recently been revised. The musicans on this disc, Elmira Darvarova (Violin), Mary Ann Mumm (Violin), Craig Mumm (Viola), Sam Magill (Cello) and Scott Dunn (Piano), are all top-notch and the sound quality is excellent. Recommended to anyone who likes late-romantic chamber music. - Greg La Traille, ArkivMusic.com


This new release by Naxos of Italian composer Franco Alfano's chamber music follows last year's first volume, warmly received, of his Cello Sonata and Piano Trio ('Concerto'), featuring, as here, Samuel Magill, Elmira Darvarova and Scott Dunn, and recorded three years earlier. A few months ago Naxos also released on Blu-ray a performance of Alfano's opera Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Plácido Domingo in the title role.

In his lifetime Alfano had reasonable success, at least until World War II. Posthumously his musical reputation has survived chiefly in Italy, where he sometimes appears in fifth place in that country's equivalent of Russia's 'Formidable Five', ranking with - though a little below - Respighi, Pizzetti, Malipiero and Casella. Beyond his homeland his reputation was tarnished by his association, more opportunistic than ideological, with Mussolini, and by an apocryphal anecdote, recycled by Naxos's in-house reviewer, according to which Arturo Toscanini "walked out of the orchestra pit on the opening night of Puccini’s opera Turandot, just at that point where Franco Alfano’s completion began". A more plausible version has Toscanini pausing and announcing where Puccini's completed music ends. Grandiose maestro that he was, Toscanini himself chopped and changed Alfano's completion, with the latter being censured for the musical supererogations of the former. Concrete facts about Alfano's life are in fact hard to come by, though Konrad Dryden's recent biography, 'Franco Alfano: Transcending Turandot' (Scarecrow Press, 2009), fills in a few gaps. Happily, Dryden has written the notes for this CD, giving him the chance to fill in the gaps he himself left in his book through focusing almost entirely on Alfano's operas.

Alfano had a reputation for favouring high tessituras in his numerous operas. The same may be said of the violin part of the Sonata, lending the work not just a very distinctive sound, but also a feeling of luminosity and emotional intensity bordering on sensuality. Not surprisingly, it is a demanding work for the violinist, wonderfully handled by Darvarova - according to the notes, "a concert violinist since the age of four" - and no easy ride either for pianist Scott Dunn. Alfano revised the work in 1933, but this is the original version from a decade earlier, written at about the same time as, and on a par with, his excellent Cello Sonata.

Alfano was nearly seventy when he began writing what was to be his last chamber piece, the Piano Quintet in A flat. Though a work of great maturity, it is surprisingly reminiscent of the Sonata, at least in the violin writing, which again has a high tessitura. In the previous decade Alfano had been through a mainly neo-Classical phase, and in earlier times had even had avant-gardist tendencies, but the beautifully scored, superbly lyrical Quintet represented, in Dryden's words, "a vehement reaction against atonal and dodecaphonic music". The jubilant moderato con grazia middle movement has moments of folk, jazz and musical theatre, yet its startling heterogeneity coheres expertly. Not to be overshadowed, the finale is pervaded with an exotic oriental flavour. Overall, Alfano's Piano Quintet is an inspired work of considerable originality, dulcet, optimistic, indelible. Well performed by the five experienced soloists of the ad hoc quintet, even if the ensemble playing occasionally alludes to an imperfect mutual familiarity.

The mellow, slightly Jewish-sounding Nenia and the cheery, sassy Scherzino, transcriptions made in 1935 by Enrico Pierangeli, make ideal encore pieces to bring the CD to a close. Sound quality is good throughout.

The blurb for this disc overstates things considerably by asserting that Alfano's chamber music "is receiving deserved recognition" - its ringing absence from recital programmes across Europe testifies to that - but this and its recent companion CD should at least get things moving in the right direction for this underrated composer.

-- Byzantion, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin and Piano in D major by Franco Alfano
Performer:  Elmira Darvarova (Violin), Scott Dunn (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925; Italy 
Quintet for Piano and Strings in A flat major by Franco Alfano
Performer:  Craig Mumm (Viola), Scott Dunn (Piano), Elmira Darvarova (Violin),
Mary Ann Mumm (Violin), Sam Magill (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1945 
Nenia and Scherzino by Franco Alfano
Performer:  Elmira Darvarova (Violin), Scott Dunn (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Superb- A Real Discovery! February 23, 2014 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "I'll just add a few personal observations to those of Arkivmusic's professional critic, who gets it right- this is a very excellent Naxos release of works by a 20th century composer who deserves to be 'rediscovered'. Franco Alfano, the composer who completed Puccini's powerful opera Turandot in an act which musicologists suggest actually has diminished his artistic presence in the latter 20th century, is in fact a composer of striking originality, and this magnificent Naxos disk provides compelling evidence of his abilities. All three works under consideration here are world premiere recordings, and what an eye-opening experience they are, especially the two major works. Leading off is Alfano's Violin Sonata in D, an austere, lovely work with a subdued, melancholy atmosphere that at times seems impressionistic in the style of early 20th century French chamber music. The Sonata features a brilliantly choreographed interaction between violinist and pianist, with occasional and tentative forays just over the border into dissonance, adding further salt to an already spicy, pungent ambience. I was immediately and strongly impressed with this sonata; its slow-to-moderate tempo affords plenty of time and opportunity for intense and compelling statements of great originality and expressiveness throughout the work's 31 minutes. The second major piece is also a masterwork- Alfano's Piano Quintet in A Flat Major, from 1945. What a strikingly expressive composition this is, filled with sadness and longing in the opening Largo, then shifting to a much brighter, near dance-like Moderato second movement. In the concluding Allegro third movement, the Piano Quintet's structure becomes denser in critical passages, and the complexity of the music picks up to give us a thoroughly convincing and satisfying resolution to what I think is a superb piece of mid-20th century chamber music. Finally, the short and energetic Nenia and Scherzino for Violin and Piano rounds out the disk by providing a welcome release from the tensions of the two major works on the program. Naxos' sound qualities on this disk are outstanding, as usual, and the artists play this music with passion and commitment. In short, this disk is simply magnificent, and it truly deserves to be heard by anyone who likes high quality chamber music. Highly recommended!" Report Abuse
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