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Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, November 2009

MARTUCCI, G.: Orchestral Music (Complete), Vol. 3 (Rome Symphony, La Vecchia) - Piano Concerto No. 1 / La canzone dei ricordi 8.570931

MARTUCCI, G.: Orchestral Music (Complete), Vol. 2 (Rome Symphony, La Vecchia) - Symphony No. 2 / Theme and Variations / Tarantella / Gavotta 8.570930

Giuseppe Martucci (1856–1909) is a composer of no little success during his lifetime. Hailed as one of the premiere pianists of the age, he was also named the conductor of the Orchestra Napoletana, widely considered to be the best in Italy at the time. He tirelessly sought to expand the repertory and introduced many works by the best romantic composers of the age, including the Italian debuts of Tristan und Isolde and Götterdämmerung, as well as British and French music. He was acknowledged as the leading Italian composer of the second half of the nineteenth century.

Naxos has embarked on a complete orchestral music series of which these are the second [8.570930] and third [8.570931] volumes. Martucci would certainly be pleased, as these performances are outstanding, played to perfection by the Rome Symphony and captured is excellent sound. The First Piano Concerto was not published until 95 years after it was written, and the composer evidently didn’t think much about it. Perhaps that is because it is so redolent of Mendelssohn and Chopin in places. However, even here we are given hints of the vast originality of this man’s music that would become so evident in just a few years. The one composer that kept popping into my mind was Sibelius; there are many moments of the stark austere beauty that so makes the Finnish composer’s output that I hear in snippets all over this wonderful concerto.

La canzone del ricordi (“The Song of Remembrance”) is a terrific orchestral song cycle (though only orchestrated eleven years after it was created) that seems miles beyond its time. As an orchestral cycle only Berlioz was writing anything comparable at the moment with his Les Nuits d’été, and Martucci takes his time to explore the textual nuances in each of these poems with delicacy and depth. I have only one other recording of this, that of Riccardo Muti and the La Scala Orchestra on Sony (with a wonderful performance of the Second Piano Concerto) sung by Mirella Freni. To my mind, though I do think that Muti’s faster tempos (in all but one of the numbers) are more in character, the singing of  mezzo Silvia Pasini easily equals and even tops that of Freni, well past her prime at the time.
The second disc [8.570930] contains Martucci’s masterpiece Symphony No. 2. It was written in the last ten years of his life and took him over five years to complete. Toscanini took it up early on and remained a fervent advocate for the piece. The work is preciously imaginative with one of the most intriguing scherzos you will ever hear. The disc is rounded out with a fine Theme and Variations for Piano and Orchestra that is Martucci’s only other work for piano with orchestra—and it took a while to reach this format—while the two remaining orchestral works are orchestrations of later piano pieces, each of great originality and attraction. This is a not-to-be-missed series.



Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International, June 2009

Martucci’s Symphony No. 2 took another significant chunk of the composer’s career, seeing a gestation period of about 5 years before completion. Again, the avuncular figure of Brahms gazes down, sprinkling influential dust on many aspects of upon this piece, but again the forceful nature of the music immediately dismisses any ideas one might have of this being in any way a pale imitation. Indeed, there are some dissonances in the first movement which seem to anticipate Sibelius, and while the horns and strings enjoy much of that rich German romantic texture, there are some little woodwind figures which seem to leap straight out of something altogether more Czechoslovakian. There are more fingerprints from elsewhere, with the string ostinati and other aspects of the first movement having a distinctly Brucknerian quality. A short horn solo introduces the second movement Scherzo, which as the title would lead one to expect has a lighter quality, full of quirky running string figures and lively commentary from the winds. The emotional core of the symphony is in the eloquently expressive Adagio, ma non troppo, which takes only a minute to build from a low thematic statement to the peak of its first musical paragraph. This is almost a thirteen minute musical landscape however, and Martucci throws in plenty of contrast, from a low string sequence which has a similar mood to Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen, to an extended build-up and a massive climax with strings and blazing brass at full tilt, ending with another rather magical soft and restrained final section and coda. The suspicion that British composers may have had their influence on Martucci—supported by his conducting of Stanford’s Irish Symphony and others—is to my ears audible in the opening of the final Allegro, which is full of quirky bristling moustaches and jaunty top hats. This is confident symphonic writing, with lively counterpoint and plenty of virtuoso orchestrational strutting. There is one remarkable moment in which everything seems to collapse, out of which the themes re-emerge ever more triumphantly. This is all great fun, but fits hand in glove with the tenor of the rest of the symphony, providing a release filled with noble sentiments and sparkling dexterity from all involved.

Moving on to the ‘fillers’, the Tema con variazioni is Martucci’s only other work for piano and orchestra aside from the two piano concertos, and even then it is an arrangement, originally for piano solo—subsequently revised more than once and including a version for two pianos. The theme itself is not particularly memorable nor are the variations equally distinguished, with plenty of facile ‘plink-plink’ pianism going on in some. There are however some fascinating moments in this piece, with plenty of dialogue between soloist and orchestra and some intriguing orchestral textures. Martucci goes for the ‘big tune’ in the Adagio variation, but this ends up sounding more like a parody than a major achievement. Lya De Barberiis’ playing is not helped by a rather clangy treble in the instrument used, but is anyway competent rather than inspirational. The Gavotta is another transcription from a solo piano piece, having plenty of pastoral offbeat rhythmic charm rather than a direct dance character. More exciting is the final track, the Tarantella which, orchestrated in 1908 was Martucci’s last transcription. ‘Rowdiness, verging on aggression’ is how Richard Whitehouse describes it, and there is indeed plenty of wildness in the ride—for players and listener alike…These new recordings [Symphony No 1 is available on 8.570929] from Naxos are both of a very high standard in any context, and made even more attractive by being at budget price…the overriding impression is that of stylish professionalism in the entirety of the orchestral sound, as well as in numerous lovely orchestral solos throughout both discs…The acoustic of the Auditorium Conciliazione is big and resonant, but there is no loss of detail in the recording, and the richly relaxed spread of instruments is on to which you can listen for a long time with no sense of fatigue. Good booklet note from Richard Whitehouse top off another set of remarkably fine recordings from the Naxos stable, so, snap up these at two for the price of probably-less-than-one and rejuvenate your romantic orchestral section with resounding resonances.



Ian Lace
MusicWeb International, June 2009

The composition of this Second Symphony (1904) occupied Martucci for over five years and it is claimed to be his masterpiece. The influence of Brahms and Schumann is apparent…

The most substantial of the three fillers is the 14½-minute Theme and Variations, only recently published. Besides his two concertos, this is Martucci’s only work for piano and orchestra.  It was originally written for solo piano in 1882. It is an amiable but rather slight work…The Gavotta No. 2 is brighter, the strutting outer parts framing a mild avuncular pastoral scene. The concluding Tarantella No. 6 is a noisy, colourful, hedonistic riot.



Robert R. Reilly
InsideCatholic.com, May 2009

Martucci’s Second Symphony combines Sibelius’s majestic symphonic sweep with Italian lyricism in a wonderfully stirring first movement. Later movements sometimes sound like Elgar, with his sweetness and nobility of expression. I am not sure how these influences infiltrated Italy at that time (1904), but it is no wonder that Toscanini championed this piece.



James Leonard
Allmusic.com, May 2009

One month after the release of their recording of Giuseppe Martucci’s First Symphony [8.570929], Francesco La Vecchia and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Rome returned with a recording of the Italian late Romantic’s Second Symphony. And like the earlier release, this disc can take its place as the finest recorded performance of the work since Toscanini’s. The symphony itself is a lush and lovely work with big tunes, dramatic developments, and stirring climaxes, and La Vecchia and the Rome musicians treat it with the reverence that Austrian musicians reserve for the symphonies of Bruckner. The Italian players deliver a passionate and persuasive reading. The couplings here, the expressive Theme and Variations with pianist Lya de Barberiis, the graceful Gavotta, and the thrilling Tarantella, receive equally convincing performances, and all the works are recorded in clear, deep, warm digital sound. Listeners who love late Romantic orchestral music and are looking for something similar but different are urged to try Martucci, and La Vecchia’s recordings are the place to start.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2009

Last month I welcomed the first of Giuseppe Martucci’s two symphonies [Naxos 8.570929], and there was a time when he was regarded as a major contributor to 19th century Italian music. You will find a composer biography in my March review, so let me only add that his Second Symphony was completed in 1904 and came almost ten years after the composition of the Brahms inspired First Symphony. In pointing out that he had become more cosmopolitan, the sleeve note writer gets carried away, claiming Martucci was ‘recalling those of many others from Beethoven to Bax’ rather overlooking the fact Bax was a college student at the time. My ears detect little change in his style, this being another Germanic symphony orchestrated with consummate skill. As a sampling point try the scherzo, the persistent jog-trot rhythm having some relationship with Bruckner (track 2). The slow movement may well have benefited with some distillation, the not overlong finale containing many attractions. As with the first disc, this is completed by orchestrations of three piano works, the most extensive a reworking for piano and orchestra of the Theme and Variations, thescore in this format completed in 1905. Not burdened down with a need to work in a large-scale, it is a very engaging and here played effectively by soloist, Lya De Barberris. The Gavotta and Tarantella are short encore pieces, vivacious and joyful.The Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma, under the direction of Francesco La Vecchia, are highly committed. The sound engineering is reliable.






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11:49:23 AM, 23 July 2014
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