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Italian Orchestral Music

Previtali / Orch Accademia Di Santa Cecilia
Release Date: 03/12/2013 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4805374   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ITALIAN ORCHESTRAL MUSIC Fernando Previtali, cond; Natl Academy of St. Cecilia O; Nello Santi, cond; 1 Paris Conservatoire O 1 DECCA ELOQUENCE 4805374 (2 CDs: 126:15)

CASELLA Suite: La Giara. RESPIGHI Pini di Roma. GHEDINI Four Pieces by Read more Frescobaldi. PETRASSI Concerto for Orchestra No. 1. WOLF-FERRARI 1 Overtures and Intermezzi: Il segreto di Susanna; Il campiello; La dama boba; I quattro rusteghi. Suite: I gioelli della Madonna

This marks the “first international release” of these recordings on CD; they date from 1956 (Wolf-Ferrari) and 1957, and I for one had never seen them before. More power to Australian Eloquence for finding such treasures. These discs would have been useful to collectors a decade ago, before Casella and Petrassi were adequately represented in the catalogs. They are welcome now, nonetheless, for the committed performances under Fernando Previtali (1907-1985), an Italian maestro much admired for his Verdi. Previtali was artistic director of the Radio Italiana Orchestra for 17 years where he led the premieres of several works by Petrassi and Ghedini. He also conducted the music for many of the movies made in Italy after World War II, including an Italian film version of Les Misérables.

Previtali’s recording of Petrassi’s First Concerto for Orchestra is intriguing, and has a markedly different effect from that of the 2005 recording from Arthur Tamayo and the Netherlands RSO on Stradivarius (see Martin Anderson’s review in Fanfare 29:2). Tamayo’s mandatory set gives us all eight of Petrassi’s concertos for orchestra, and they cover a wide stylistic journey; the First from 1933-34 recalls Hindemith and was described by Anderson as “bouncing with no-nonsense neo-Classical energy.” Tamayo underlines the sinewy neoclassical side, but Previtali positions this work much closer to the 20th-century mainstream of Respighi. As befits a Verdian, his performance finds more lyricism in the first and second movements and a heightened dramatic tension throughout. The Orchestra of St. Cecilia plays with great commitment and impressively clean ensemble. The sound is slightly opaque but more than acceptable and orchestral balance is excellent—the piano more strongly present than in the later recording and the saxophone better integrated into the texture.

The same attributes of strength and commitment may be heard in Respighi’s Pines of Rome , although here the competition is immense and the musicality of Previtali’s thoughtful performance doesn’t quite make up for its lack of sonic brilliance.

Casella’s alternately pastoral and jovial suite from his ballet La Giara (The Jar, 1924) is also available from Naxos, where Christian Benda conducts the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana (well known for their stalwart work in accompanying Martha Argerich at various Lugano Festivals). Benda’s smaller orchestra produces an authentically theatrical impression and his performance is lively, though Previtali has a better tenor in the single vocal movement: the fresh-voiced Felice Luzi, sounding remarkably like Luigi Alva in his prime. Ghedini’s suite is comprised of four pieces by Frescobaldi: two canzoni and one toccata from his Second Book of pieces for organ or cembalo, and a toccata from the Messe della Domenica . The orchestrations are straightforward, not a radical rethinking like Stravinsky’s Pulcinella , and make for pleasant listening although this is the least compelling work on the disc.

Another Italian opera conductor, Nello Santi, was in his mid-20s when he made these recordings of Overtures and Intermezzi from the operas of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari. The Conservatoire musicians clearly relish the melodic delights and capricious nature of this music, and Santi conducts with a youthful élan that tended to elude him in later opera recordings. These pieces have been recorded elsewhere too (notably by Marriner and St. Martin in the Fields for EMI) but if you don’t know Wolf-Ferrari’s joyful music this cheap release provides an excellent introduction.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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