John J. Puccio
, September 2010
People didn’t just neglect the music of Italian organist and composer Carlo Giorgio Garofalo (1886–1962) in his own lifetime, practically nobody knows him even today. He wrote a ton of sacred compositions, heard in churches and cathedrals throughout Italy in his time but hardly anywhere outside the country and hardly anywhere, period, since. He also wrote quite a lot of secular works as well, like the two pieces on this album, most of them never getting performed, let alone recorded. The present disc aims to help rectify that situation.
Garofalo’s Violin Concerto sounds like something written in the nineteenth rather than the twentieth century. It’s a throwback to Mendelssohn and Brahms...Still, there is a power and grandeur about the Concerto’s first movement, and a gypsy feel at times as well. However, while it is charming, to be sure, it’s nothing you can fully pin down or grab onto, kind of like elusive wisps of semi-familiar tunes. The same might be said of the serene Andante and the bouncy, up-tempo finale. You’d swear you’ve heard it all before, and then the thought, like the music, quickly fades from memory. Nevertheless, violinist Sergei Standler, maestro Joel Spiegelman, and the New Moscow Symphony Orchestra (an ensemble brought together in 1999 by the Modern Times Group of Sweden to enhance and support the Scandinavian broadcast company) try their best to do the music justice.
More important, perhaps, is Garofalo’s Romantic Symphony, which Spiegelman resurrected and saved from oblivion in 1994 with only its second complete public performance. The first public performance had been almost eighty years earlier. On this disc we find the première recordings of both the Romantic Symphony and the Violin Concerto.
Anyway, the Symphony didn’t get its “Romantic” title for nothing. It could well be something by Brahms or Bruckner, although unlike the work of those classic composers, Garofalo’s piece is entertaining without being in any way profound or even particularly affecting, despite its vaguely nostalgic tone...the Andante and Scherzo ...are at the heart of the music, containing some of its most-memorable melodies. The Andante can be especially enchanting in a lush, spacious, highly emotional way. Indeed, the Andante is really the best part of the Symphony: lovely yet dramatic, never too light yet never taking itself too seriously, either (at least not under Spiegelman’s direction). It has a haunting quality that makes a listener want to return to it again.
Furthermore, one can understand from listening to the Scherzo why his rival, Ottorino Respighi, may have tried to repress Garofalo’s music. There are certain similar, descriptive, tone-poem characteristics to it that may have worried the more-famous composer. The Romantic Symphony ends by allowing every instrument of the orchestra to have its day in a rather melodramatic but gripping fashion, finishing up as it began, in the loftiest possible manner. This is big-scale music that isn’t afraid to let it be known.
Originally recorded by MTG in 1999 and released on the Marco Polo label, the music now comes to us on a newly reissued, low-priced Naxos CD. The sound is squarely in the Naxos tradition, too, being perfectly serviceable, moderately distanced, with a somewhat soft overall response...In the Romantic Symphony in particular the acoustic setting is deeper and the sound more realistically spread out than in the Violin Concerto, although both works are pleasantly listenable.