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Robert R. Reilly
InsideCatholic.com, January 2009

The Sinfonia del Mare is as beautiful an evocation of the sea as has ever been written, and it is all the more remarkable in that Malipiero wrote it unaware of Debussy's La Mer. The two numbered symphonies show Malipiero's magical ability to conjure Arcadian dreams in the world of sound, though the dream in No. 4 is a sad one, in memoriam for Natalie Koussevitzky. Malipiero was a unique genius with a very distinct style: If Debussy had been an Italian and had studied with Leos Janacek, he might have sounded something like this.



Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International, October 2008

This disc and the ones that will follow also act as a firm memorial to that most quick-learning and versatile conductor Antonio de Almeida who died suddenly whilst conducting in Pittsburgh in 1997.

Malipiero was an extraordinarily prolific composer and that may be part of the problem. Like Darius Milhaud, a similarly productive composer, he has been largely ignored. This seems to be on the grounds that there is so much to take in, with such a huge journey of adventure, that it might be best never to start. Well this disc is quite probably a very good place to start.

Malipiero is a composer of several styles and to a certain extent you can see them developing in these three works. It’s best to start with the ‘Sinfonia del Mare’ which is not much more than a student work - the composer was 24. It contains the seeds of what is going to happen in later years. I first heard this disc whilst sitting on a sun-lounger in glorious sunshine overlooking the Adriatic near Ravenna. The calmness and delicacy of the work’s opening matched the scene perfectly. So did the more troublesome and windy section which takes up its middle portion—the Adriatic can be a harsh taskmaster on sailing boats and can quixotically change its mood. All this is so superbly summed up in this arch-shaped work. I have returned to it quite a few times since then and with increasing pleasure. It should also be remembered, as John Waterhouse says in his very interesting booklet notes, that the composer had not yet been able to meet “the better known sea music of Debussy which had been completed only a few months before”. There are three Sinfonias dating from the first decade of the century. The previous one had been the ‘Sinfonia degli eroi’ of 1905. After that Malipiero only used the term ‘Symphony’.

The Third Symphony also offered much pleasure in its four movements based on and inspired by bellringers, especially those of St.Mark’s Venice at the end of the war. Here I must add that the orchestral playing of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra sometimes falls below international standard, especially in the sound of the brass when exposed and in the high string passages. One can mostly put this down to rushed rehearsal schedules and unfamiliarity with the repertoire. The Malipiero symphonies should nevertheless be looked at again and this time by a top-flight orchestra. Only then may full justice be done to them. Having said that the ‘Sinfonia del Mare’ comes off well as do parts of this work. The Andante second movement is particularly beautifully played.

Malipiero enjoys the cor anglais but it sounds a little too nasal here – at least for my taste. It’s nevertheless interesting that he often gives it rather oriental melodies which emphasize the augmented second interval. The Scherzo is placed third and is a very brief but rhythmically fascinating creation. The work ends in a Lento with its “slow, solemn tread and the most realistic bell-evocations of them all”. The closing epilogue comprises the “more fully-scored, affirmatively bell-like return of the second movement’s entire first section”. Apparently Ernst Ansermet who knew the composer well commented very astutely: “these symphonies are not thematic but motivic, that is to say Malipiero uses melodic motifs … which generate other melodic motifs … they reappear, but they do not carry the musical discourse - they are, rather, carried by it”. As you listen you realize the veracity of this remark. For example his use of progressive tonality where the composer often ends a movement in a key unrelated to the one in which it started.

The Fourth Symphony is a more serious affair, ending in a long Lento—the longest of its four movements. It also includes an almost Stravinskian Scherzo. The slow movement is said to be the most beautiful which the composer penned. This is not surprising really as it was written in memory of Natalie Koussevitzky. Her death also resulted in Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Britten’s Peter Grimes, both works also dedicated to her memory. Perhaps one can also see this piece as a memorial to the war dead with its reflective ending featuring the cor anglais again.



John France
MusicWeb International, September 2008

…based on this first volume of Symphonies, I believe that listeners will be pleasantly surprised at what appears to be a great symphonic cycle that is just waiting to be (re)discovered. It seems ironic that such music as this can have remained in relative obscurity for so many years. …It is very difficult to describe Malipiero’s music. For one thing it is hard to relate their sound-world to that of other composers. One is reminded of the late Elvis Presley when asked who he sang like. His immortal reply was “I don’t sing like no-one”. And the same can be said of Malipiero. …Dallapiccola once stated that Malipiero was “the most important musical personality that Italy had since the death of Verdi”.

He was to destroy much of his music written before 1914; however the Sinfonia del mare (1906) is one that has survived that cull. It is a very good place to begin an exploration of his music. This work is usually regarded as more ‘symphonic poem’ than a ‘classic’ symphony. This is the composer’s Sea Symphony—although it is a far cry from that of Vaughan Williams! …It is a lovely work that will present few problems to listeners.

The Third Symphony was composed in 1944-45. …There is great beauty in these pages, as well contemplative moments and even intimations of darkness. Yet, for all that, this is an optimistic work.

The Fourth Symphony is subtitled ‘in memoriam’. It is dedicated to Natalie Koussevitzky, the wife of the great conductor. …this is a great CD. …And to discover a series of works that are great music, inspiring, beautiful and thoroughly enjoyable is a great thing. I hope that Naxos quickly releases the remaining symphonies and other orchestral works as soon as possible.

I should add that the playing by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and their conductor Antonio de Almeida is stimulating. To my mind, they are great advocates of Malipiero’s music. The programme notes by John C.G. Waterhouse are informative, well written and essential reading.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2008

Taken from recordings first issued on the Marco Polo label, this is the initial release on Naxos of the seventeen symphonies of the 20th-century Italian composer, Gian Francesco Malipiero. Born in Venice in 1883, he was to spend most of his long life in that region, though in his youth he toured with his father, a pianist and conductor. A significant disagreement saw the sixteen-year-old boy taking refuge with his estranged mother, and it was then that he became a music student, leading to his life as a composer. In the period that followed he undertook the invaluable task of transcribing the long-forgotten Italian music of Monteverdi and Frescobaldi. Yet it was to be a premiere of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps in 1913 that proved a watershed, and at the age of 30 he publicly rejected everything he had written so far. In fact, he preserved many of the scores, and in later years encouraged a performance of the opening work on this disc, the Sinfonia del mare,composed in 1906. But he was to be in his late forties before he began the series of eleven numbered symphonies, the Third and Fourth, which complete this disc, coming from 1945 and 1946, respectively. Though at the time seen by many as a modernist, he was in reality a throwback to the days of the big romantic symphonic poems, his music dressed-up in his own inventive orchestration to render a veneer of modernity. The Third has the subtitle ‘Delle Campane’ to mark the many bells that were allowed to sound in Venice at the end of the Second World War. If you are a newcomer to the composer, start with track four, the mass of bells ringing out in joy. The sombre Lento funebre second movement of the Fourth was written in memoriam Natalie Koussevitzky, though many saw it as a more generalised work for the war dead. The Moscow Symphony were sailing into unchartered territory but make a good job of the descriptive Sinfonia del mare.






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