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Wolf-ferrari: Violin Concerto & Orchestral Music From Operas / Haider, Schmid, Oviedo Philharmonic

Release Date: 11/27/2012 
Label:  Farao   Catalog #: 108069   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari
Performer:  Benjamin Schmid
Conductor:  Friedrich Haider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Oviedo Philharmonic
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WOLF-FERRARI Violin Concerto in D, Op. 26. Il Campiello: Preludio. Le donne curiose: Ouverture. L’amore medico: Ouverture. I quatro rusteghi: Intermezzo & Benjamin Schmid (vn); Friedrich Haider, cond; Oviedo Filarmonía FARAO Read more B108069 (58:52)

& Declaration of Love to a Violinist (DVD: 13:36)

Extensive booklet notes and an accompanying DVD tell the story (or at least part of the story) of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s infatuation (musical or more?) with the young American violinist Guila Bustabo and his composition of a Violin Concerto for her: “Guila Bustabo in ammirazione.” She can be heard in the work from an air-check. Bustabo, who made a deep impression during the 1930s and ’40s, experienced difficulties after World War II—she had played freely in Germany and Italy, and some stories I’ve heard link her with a Nazi officer (on the other hand, she also played for American troops in Germany after the liberation of France). The sad story continues (though not told in the luxurious booklet): inability to obtain engagements and finally, after teaching in Innsbruck during the ’60s, ending up as a section violinist in a regional American orchestra, where, the story goes, she taught the concertmaster and violinists placed in front of her—although she supposedly also played solos with the ensemble.

The Concerto in D Major, op. 26, occupying more than 36 minutes, falls into four movements: Fantasia, Romanza, Improvviso , and Rondo Finale . The booklet may describe Wolf-Ferrari as “Apollonian,” but the first and second movements wander in a sort of tranquil haze, although that haze isn’t harmonic: Firmly tonal, the work’s language remains clear; and the textures continually soften to accommodate what sound like folk tunes. According to the notes, the composer explicitly drew upon themes, from his opera Irene for the first movement, from Il Campiello , and one from The Merry Widow , the text of which, the booklet notes point out, allows little doubt that the relationship at which Wolf-Ferrari hinted involved composer and violinist. (There’s perhaps intentionally bitter irony in that the Nazis displayed a fondness for this operetta.) Throughout these first two movements, the violin remains a predominantly gentle voice, even in scherzando moments that become more prevalent in the third. So while Wolf-Ferrari may have intended to write for her a concerto in which the violin reigns as king, his solo part, in which Bustabo supposedly collaborated, hardly presents the sparkling, almost driven violinist who can be heard in her recordings (Columbia recorded several short pieces in 1935, now available on Symposium 1301, which also includes early recordings by her fellow student of Louis Persinger, Ruggiero Ricci; some of her live performances of concertos have been available from time to time). The finale bristles with high spirits, but hardly engages the full range of a violinist’s armamentarium. As she got older, the story goes, her playing grew more mature, but the additional tameness also dimmed the brilliance for which she’d become known.

Benjamin Schmid gives a perfumed account of the concerto, blending at times almost smarmy expressivity with technical acuity in the more virtuosic moments (for example, in the finale). Jascha Heifetz turned up his nose at Arnold Bax’s Violin Concerto, which he considered insufficiently brilliant, and it’s hard to imagine how he (or even the golden-toned Mischa Elman) might have responded to Wolf-Ferrari’s. So mastering the by turns gentle (even in the last movement’s long and overtly virtuosic cadenza, which turns soft at many points and in the bustling coda that follows it) and whimsical rhetoric, as Schmid has, seems no mean accomplishment. Haider, who, in his interview (both in the booklet and on the DVD) discusses his decade-long near-obsession with the composer, seems the perfect choice to accompany Schmid, not only biographically but musically and temperamentally as well.

Four orchestral excerpts from Wolf-Ferrari’s operas bring the program to a conclusion. The first of these, Il Campiello (1936), serves as a prelude to an opera that enshrines a fragrant melody that mourners later sang at the composer’s funeral. The Ouverture to Le donne curiose (1903) presents a more raucous side to the composer’s personality, one well tailored, it seems, for the stage (though the composer’s early operas didn’t meet with great success), as does L’amore medico (1913), which exhibits the same kind of tough spine occasionally in evidence in Karl Goldmark’s melodically ingratiating music. The Intermezzo from I quatro rusteghi (1906) seems even wittier and lighter in spirit in this performance.

The DVD repeats a great deal of the comprehensive booklet, although it does take viewers to meet the current owner of Wolf-Ferrari’s house (he discusses the birdsong that’s prevalent on the grounds and that appears, at least in spirit, in the concerto). Farao provides subtitles to the German documentary in English, Italian, and Japanese and features LPCM 2-channel 48K sound.

Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto, dedicated to the memory of an angel, Edward Elgar’s, which enshrined the soul of ... who knows whom?, and the “Butterfly Lovers” Concerto, all telling similarly compelling stories, find themselves in good company with Wolf-Ferrari’s, not only in their extra-musical subject matter, but in their rich lyricism as well (think, as well of the essentially lyrical violin concertos by Frederick Delius, Ernest Moeran, and Bax). Although Haider considers Wolf-Ferrari’s concerto one of the greatest, all listeners may not agree; but most of them should easily concede its ingratiating lyricism and poignancy, especially in this deeply committed performance. The recorded sound presents the soloist and the orchestra in what almost sounds like high definition, with timbres that blaze or sublimate themselves as the occasion demands; the whole should make a deep impression on listeners. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

L'amore medico: Overture by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari
Conductor:  Friedrich Haider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Oviedo Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century 
Il campiello: Overture by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari
Conductor:  Friedrich Haider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Oviedo Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; Italy 
I quattro rusteghi: Intermezzo by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari
Conductor:  Friedrich Haider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Oviedo Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1906; Munich, Germany 
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 26 by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari
Performer:  Benjamin Schmid (Violin)
Conductor:  Friedrich Haider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Oviedo Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1901; Munich, Germany 
Le donne curiose: Overture by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari
Conductor:  Friedrich Haider
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Oviedo Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Italy 

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