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Pizzetti: Assassinio Nella Cattedrale / Karajan

Release Date: 06/29/1998 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 457671   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Ildebrando Pizzetti
Performer:  Claude HeaterHans HotterEdmond HurshellWalter Kreppel,   ... 
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera ChorusVienna State Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length:  2 Hours 30 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Assassinio nella cattedrale (1958) is the only Pizzetti opera to have been professionally staged in England though others have been broadcast. It is based on Alberto Castelli's translation of T. S. Eliot's play which Pizzetti shortened and adapted. (He greatly truncates the knights' justification of the murder of the archbishop towards the end.) I see that John Waterhouse, in the Viking Opera Guide (Viking: 1993), mentions a 1958 performance with Turin forces conducted by Pizzetti himself as having been issued on records by Stradivarius, though I have never encountered the set. However, I do have 'unofficial' LPs of the La Scala premiere with Nicola Rossi-Lemeni as Becket and conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni who studied with the composer. Read more I have dim memories of its Sadlers Wells production in 1962, which was not greeted with enthusiasm. Its restraint and nobility were ill-attuned to the spirit of that much-overrated decade. This 1960 set derives from a Viennese broadcast under Karajan with no less a Becket than Hans Hotter and as distinguished a cast as the opera is ever likely to assemble. The eminence of this line-up ensured the opera's success in Vienna, and Hotter's magisterial Becket is of commanding stature. But then the Tempters of Gerhard Stolze, Paul Schoeffler and their colleagues are hardly less magnificent. Indeed if there is a weakness in this performance it is to be found in the chorus, whose tone is not always in clear focus.

Pizzetti's musical language is steeped in tradition: its lyricism has a personal, often modally inflected profile that is richly expressive. Waterhouse speaks of "a continuous flexible arioso, sensitive to every nuance of the text and governed by the natural rhythms of the Italian language". Some of that is inevitably lost in the German translation of Heinrich Schmidt and Leo Uher. The musical flow is dignified and stately as befits the subject-matter and the orchestral palette subtle in its colouring. There are moments when its melodic lines suggest that the lessons of Mussorgsky and Pelléas have been as closely observed as late Verdi, and the choral writing has an almost symphonic sweep. The opera is short: its First Act is just over 40 minutes long while the Intermezzo (Becket's Christmas morning sermon in 1190) and the Second Act together run to under 50. There are good booklet-essays by Karl Löbl and Gottfried Kraus but these dwell on Karajan's years at Vienna and I would have welcomed a background essay on Pizzetti's operatic development. Understandably since the Eliot play is so readily available, no English text is given; nor are we given the Castelli Italian translation. Apparently the original ORF tapes no longer survive and the copy with which the DG engineers worked obviously posed problems. The sound is distinctly subfusc compared with commercial recordings of the period but the beauty of Pizzetti's score none the less registers.

Although Lamberto Gardelli recorded the Concerto dell'estate and the Pisanella Suite (Decca, 2/67 - nla) and Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin the Violin Sonata in 1938, Pizzetti has been grievously neglected on disc. His Symphony in A, which I remember hearing broadcast in the late 1940s, has never been recorded, though Guido Gatti speaks highly of it in his monograph on the composer, and the recent Westminster Cathedral account of the Requiem (Hyperion, 3/98) showed just how inspired he could be. Karajan's masterly and dedicated reading enhances the claims of this noble and eloquent work and I do hope that it will at long last enjoy the recognition that earlier eluded it in the Anglo-Saxon world.

-- Gramophone [7/1998]
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Works on This Recording

Assassinio nella cattedrale by Ildebrando Pizzetti
Performer:  Claude Heater (Tenor), Hans Hotter (Bass-baritone), Edmond Hurshell (Singer),
Walter Kreppel (Bass), Christa Ludwig (Mezzo soprano), Paul Schöffler (Bass-baritone),
Kurt Equiluz (Tenor), Anton Dermota (Tenor), Walter Berry (Bass-baritone),
Gerhard Stolze (Tenor), Hilde Zadek (Soprano)
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera Chorus,  Vienna State Opera Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1957; Italy 
Venue:  Staatsoper, Vienna 
Notes: pp1960 

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