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05/01/2011
Fanfare, May 2011

The current CD opens with Malipiero’s Sinfonia dello zodiaco, a novel twist, if you will, on the “four seasons” theme. The work does indeed break down into 12 movements; however, they do not bear titles of the astrological zodiac signs. Rather, they are grouped into four sets of three movements each, with each set bearing the title of a calendar season—“Spring,” “Summer,” “Autumn,” and “Winter”—so that what we end up with are essentially four “concertos” for orchestra that parallel Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. There is no evidence suggesting that Malipiero intended a micro-level program in which each movement would depict the astrological trait of its corresponding zodiacal sign, thereby turning the Sinfonia dello zodiaco into a kind of galactic tour of the constellations, a bit like Holst’s The Planets. To the contrary, the music’s “program” seems more focused on depicting the colors and moods of the seasonal cycle, adhering closely to Vivaldi’s layout. Malipiero’s musical vocabulary, of course, is not Vivaldi’s.

For its time, 1951, the piece is not terribly modernistic sounding—perhaps only a little more harmonically adventurous than what one hears in Respighi’s oft-heard Roman Trilogy—though some movements intended to portray stormy weather or frigid conditions can ratchet up the dissonance level and rhythmic angularity. But overall, Malipiero hasn’t fallen far from the tree that nourished all of the Italian Impressionist and post-Romantic composers.

The Ninth and 10th symphonies, dating from 1966 and 1967, respectively, are late-life works written by a composer in his 80s. They are brief and terse: No. 9 in three movements lasts less than 16 minutes; No. 10 in four movements is even shorter at just over 13 minutes. The subtitle to No. 9, “Dell’ahimè,” which the note translates as “of the alas,” though I prefer “of the oy veh,” has no real bearing on the music, according to the note. Presumably it’s nothing more than the weary sigh of an elderly man facing another day and the undertaking of another symphony, as if someone were forcing him into it. The score itself belies any such sentiments. Its energetic, leaping first movement is almost balletic in character; I could easily see someone choreographing it. The Lento takes on the quality of a surreal dreamscape, while the last movement is animated by jazz rhythms that remind me a bit of Leonard Bernstein in Fancy Free mode.

The Symphony No. 10 and its subtitle, “Atropo,” are of a more serious nature. Atropos was one of three Fates in Greek mythology, the one associated with severing the cord of life to bring death. Malipiero dedicated his score to the memory of a friend, the conductor Hermann Scherchen. The composer recounts that he wanted to end the symphony with the last bars of his opera L’Orfeide, which Scherchen had conducted at the Florence May Festival in 1966, collapsing and dying immediately after the performance. Accordingly, the symphony is a dark, sorrowful work in its first two movements, and rather angry in the third movement and first part of the fourth. Only toward the end is there a feeling of resignation and closure.

To my knowledge, Malipiero’s symphonies have not been taken up by anyone else since Almeida and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra made these recordings for Marco Polo back in the 1990s. In a way, that’s too bad, because they constitute a body of music with a strong profile, much of which is quite beautiful and moving, and none of which is ever less than interesting and engaging. The good news is that these recordings, now being recycled on Naxos, are excellent in every respect and, despite their age, sound freshly minted. Obviously, for those who already collected the originals on Marco Polo, it would be foolish to repurchase them, but for those unfamiliar with Malipiero, I’d urge you to remedy the situation post-haste, and this release is as good a place to start as any.



Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, May 2011

The current CD opens with Malipiero’s Sinfonia dello zodiaco, a novel twist, if you will, on the “four seasons” theme. The work does indeed break down into 12 movements; however, they do not bear titles of the astrological zodiac signs. Rather, they are grouped into four sets of three movements each, with each set bearing the title of a calendar season—“Spring,” “Summer,” “Autumn,” and “Winter”—so that what we end up with are essentially four “concertos” for orchestra that parallel Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. There is no evidence suggesting that Malipiero intended a micro-level program in which each movement would depict the astrological trait of its corresponding zodiacal sign, thereby turning the Sinfonia dello zodiaco into a kind of galactic tour of the constellations, a bit like Holst’s The Planets. To the contrary, the music’s “program” seems more focused on depicting the colors and moods of the seasonal cycle, adhering closely to Vivaldi’s layout. Malipiero’s musical vocabulary, of course, is not Vivaldi’s.

For its time, 1951, the piece is not terribly modernistic sounding—perhaps only a little more harmonically adventurous than what one hears in Respighi’s oft-heard Roman Trilogy—though some movements intended to portray stormy weather or frigid conditions can ratchet up the dissonance level and rhythmic angularity. But overall, Malipiero hasn’t fallen far from the tree that nourished all of the Italian Impressionist and post-Romantic composers.

The Ninth and 10th symphonies, dating from 1966 and 1967, respectively, are late-life works written by a composer in his 80s. They are brief and terse: No. 9 in three movements lasts less than 16 minutes; No. 10 in four movements is even shorter at just over 13 minutes. The subtitle to No. 9, “Dell’ahimè,” which the note translates as “of the alas,” though I prefer “of the oy veh,” has no real bearing on the music, according to the note. Presumably it’s nothing more than the weary sigh of an elderly man facing another day and the undertaking of another symphony, as if someone were forcing him into it. The score itself belies any such sentiments. Its energetic, leaping first movement is almost balletic in character; I could easily see someone choreographing it. The Lento takes on the quality of a surreal dreamscape, while the last movement is animated by jazz rhythms that remind me a bit of Leonard Bernstein in Fancy Free mode.

The Symphony No. 10 and its subtitle, “Atropo,” are of a more serious nature. Atropos was one of three Fates in Greek mythology, the one associated with severing the cord of life to bring death. Malipiero dedicated his score to the memory of a friend, the conductor Hermann Scherchen. The composer recounts that he wanted to end the symphony with the last bars of his opera L’Orfeide, which Scherchen had conducted at the Florence May Festival in 1966, collapsing and dying immediately after the performance. Accordingly, the symphony is a dark, sorrowful work in its first two movements, and rather angry in the third movement and first part of the fourth. Only toward the end is there a feeling of resignation and closure.

To my knowledge, Malipiero’s symphonies have not been taken up by anyone else since Almeida and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra made these recordings for Marco Polo back in the 1990s. In a way, that’s too bad, because they constitute a body of music with a strong profile, much of which is quite beautiful and moving, and none of which is ever less than interesting and engaging. The good news is that these recordings, now being recycled on Naxos, are excellent in every respect and, despite their age, sound freshly minted. Obviously, for those who already collected the originals on Marco Polo, it would be foolish to repurchase them, but for those unfamiliar with Malipiero, I’d urge you to remedy the situation post-haste, and this release is as good a place to start as any.



Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, February 2011

This is the fifth and last volume of the Marco Polo Malipiero symphonic cycle to migrate to Naxos. The relevant disc number was Marco Polo 8.223697. It was recorded in Moscow in 1993 and presents the superstitiously unnumbered Sinfonia dello zodiaco of 1951 and the Ninth and Tenth which followed in 1967–68.

The Sinfonia dello zodiaco has a very unusual shape. It’s divided into four Partitas, each seasonal (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) which are themselves subdivided into three movements, making twelve movements in total. This ‘Four Seasons’ schema has a smattering of Beethovenian pastoralism and a heap of neo-classical authority. Winds are springy, and the finale of the Spring movement sports a deliciously and lightly orchestrated string/wind dialogue. The opening of Autumn oscillates between lissom lightness and strong, sinewy athleticism, but staunch march themes are never far away either. You can sample one such in the finale of this Partita, one that ends, in a very Malipiero way, definitely ‘in the air’—the composer being perhaps over-fond of this disjunctive, irresolute procedure. Some of the wind writing is definably French—try that enshrined in the opening of Winter. It ends in an agitato movement, string and brass-led, rather brusque, and once again ending in irresolution.

The Ninth Symphony is cast, by contrast, in three compact movements lasting roughly a quarter of an hour, unlike the earlier symphony which lasted forty-two minutes in this Moscow performance. There is a piano in the orchestral patina, but there’s also a sense of terse concision too, an unswerving, almost declamatory directness. The sense of urgency increases as the work develops; the orchestration is precise, no-nonsense, with no extraneous colours. This symphony too ends with a trademark question mark. The Tenth sports a subtitle that refers to one of the Fates in Classical Mythology, Atropo, one who cuts the thread of life. The work was dedicated to the memory of the conductor Hermann Scherchen, a good friend of the composer, who collapsed and died just after having conducted Malipiero’s L’Ofreide. It’s a disquieting work of strange conjunctions and disjunctions and terse to the point of brooding intensity.

The late Antonio de Almeida directed the performances here a few years before his death in 1997. Their directness and control are impressive. The symphonies are rather heterogeneous, and make for contrastive listening; the long 1951 work followed by the terse works from the mid 1960s.




David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, January 2011

The Moscow Symphony Orchestra in 1993 was basically a pick-up band, and not the world’s greatest by a long shot, but these nevertheless are appealing performances of some very strange music. The Sinfonia dello zodiaco covers a lot of territory: the 12 months of the year, signs of the zodiac, divided into three “partitas”, each representing one of the seasons. It’s colorful, curiously wistful music well worth getting to know. The two symphonies are later works, written in an acerbic chromatic idiom. No. 9, “dell’ahimè”, features a violent scream at the beginning of its finale, hence the title. No. 10, “Atropo”, is a very brief piece in four pithy movements, dedicated to Hermann Scherchen, who championed so much modern music. It’s possible to imagine more unanimity from the strings, or some sweeter-toned reeds, but it probably will be a long time before something better comes along. Until then, this series is more than respectable.



Mark Sealey
MusicWeb International, January 2011

Malipiero wrote 11 numbered symphonies, recordings of all of which, originally on the Marco Polo label, have now been re-issued by Naxos in five volumes…wherever there is an adequate performing version. In each case, the Moscow Symphony Orchestra under the French conductor and musicologist, Antonio de Almeida, play persuasively. They bring verve and enthusiasm to the music, which was written across Malipiero’s long career, though not at every stage in it: he wrote no fewer than seven sinfonie between 1944 and 1951. It’s a worthwhile set to own; that’s just as well, because it’s the only effectively complete set. It omits the early Sinfonia degli eroi. But includes half a dozen unnumbered works to which Malipiero gave the title, sinfonia and is one of very few other recordings of Malipiero’s symphonies anyway.

The three works on this final re-issue—from almost 20 years ago—in the series are three: by far the longest at almost three quarters of an hour in four distinct parts, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, is the Sinfonia dello zodiaco (‘Zodiac Symphony’) which was published in 1951. It’s not to be confused with the composer’s first symphony, subtitled ‘In quattro tempi, come le quattro stagioni’, or ‘In four movements, like the four seasons’. Each part of Sinfonia dello zodiaco is further divided into three movements corresponding to the months of which the seasons are made up, although they are not named other than with tempo markings. Malipiero was evasive about the origins of the symphony in particular and any relationships with astrology or the seasonal year in general. It’s hard to see anything like the same programmatic correspondence as is clearly the case with Vivaldi—even though the latter had texts.

The excellent liner-notes that come with this CD indicate that the first movements of each part (movements 1, 4, 7 and 10) suggest seasonal characteristics. Certainly the thin, frozen tentative nature of the beginning of winter (10) is remarkably apposite. The Moscow Symphony Orchestra lives very well with the dichotomy that comes from such a diffuse structure (or at least inexplicit and more impressionistic than purely descriptive) on the one hand; and much colour, motivic variety and quiet purpose as opposed to extra-musical wandering, on the other.

Like many other composers, Malipiero was superstitious about his symphonies’ numbering, making efforts to avoid writing a ninth which to this day still confuse. When he eventually felt it safe to do so, he was in his 80s and had written at least two others which could have been so called. The official Ninth “dell’ahimè” (the ‘“alas” (symphony)’ perhaps) dates from 1966. It’s much more pointed and punchy than the earlier work. It’s shorter, too; at just a quarter of an hour, which is, in fact, more typical of the composer. For as much as Malipiero seems interested in developing thematic progression, he proportionally eschews wholly consistent tonal bases; or, more accurately, he encourages tonal clashes.

The Tenth also has a subtitle. It implies winding down or disability due to age, ‘atrophy’ is implicit, although Atropo is Atropos, one of the Greek goddesses of fate. In fact it’s dedicated to the memory of conductor Hermann Scherchen, a great friend of Malipiero’s: the former collapsed and died immediately after a performance of the latter’s operatic triptych L’Orfeide at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino of 1966. The Tenth Symphony is rich in relevant quotations. If the Ninth is bleak, the Tenth is bleaker. Again the orchestra is totally in tune with the spirit and musical construction which Malipiero embraced in order to breathe life into these admittedly somewhat enigmatic works. The qualities of sincerity, unobtrusive yet barely assimilated distress, and a vestige of hope (the serene second movement [tr.17]) make this a fitting ending to this symphonic portrait of an under-appreciated composer. More and more Malipiero is beginning to be offered as the most significant Italian symphonist of his generation.

There is nothing of regimentation, bombast, driven hectoring or short cuts to orchestral (particularly string) colour in the playing of the Moscow Symphony. De Almeida has a light but firm and unambiguous touch at all times. One might just perhaps level the criticism of somewhat staid tempi on occasions. Maybe a touch more pep in the third, marked mosso, movement of the Tenth, for example.

On the whole, though, this is a recording to be returned to, learnt from and from which new depths can be derived at each revisit. No one section of the orchestra stands out as particularly worthy of merit. Indeed, the sense of ensemble between woodwind and strings, say, is highly satisfactory. The difficult, because slightly self-conscious, diminuendo bell effect two and a half minutes into the Tenth’s last movement (again, marked molto vivace and perhaps lacking just a touch of drive) is well handled too.

If you’ve been collecting the series you’ll want to add this concluding CD. If you’re just joining, the interpretations are of sufficiently high standard to make you want to work your way backwards and explore more widely.






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5:34:33 PM, 12 July 2014
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