Classical Lost and Found
, September 2010
CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Piano Concerto No. 2 / Passatempi / Onde / La sirenetta e il pesce turchino / Alghe / Vitalba e Biancospina (Massa) C5046
DALLAPICCOLA, L.: Piano Music (Piano Rarities) (Massa) C5045
The Florence Conservatory figured heavily in the lives of these two Italian composers. It was there that Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1968) received his musical training between 1912 and 1918 from Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880–1968, see the newsletter of 10 September 2010), and where Luigi Dallapiccola (1904–1975) got a degree, becoming a professor of piano in 1931. But the rise of the Nazis (1933–45) with their anti-Semitic policies soon created hardships for both men.
Being Jewish, Mario fled to the United States in 1939, where he’d spend the rest of his life, supplementing his income by writing Hollywood film scores like his fellow expatriates Schoenberg (1874–1951), Korngold (1897–1957, see the newsletter of 9 August 2007) and Tansman (1897–1986, see the newsletter of 11 May 2009). As for Luigi, who was Aryan, his having a Jewish wife made their life in Italy increasingly difficult, to the point where they were forced into hiding on a couple of occasions during World War II (1939–45).
Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote tonally based music of late romantic persuasion throughout his career, while Dallapiccola adopted the serialist principles of the Second Viennese School in his later works. All of the selections on the two CDs featured here are either tonal or soft-core dodecaphonic.
The first one is devoted to piano music by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and begins with the world première recording of his second piano concerto. Written between 1936 and 1937, which were some of the worst years in fascist Italy for the composer, it had to wait until he escaped to America for its first performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City (1939). In the standard three movements, the piano is set off against a medium-sized orchestra made all the more colorful with the inclusion of a variety of winds and even a bell. The animated opening movement has a couple of attractive thematic ideas the composer develops with some attendant keyboard pyrotechnics reminiscent of Rachmaninov (1873–1943).
The following romanza… is the concerto’s emotional core with two alternating spun-out melodies that are sequentially graceful and introspective. It segues directly into the restless angular finale that may remind you of Paganini’s (1762–1840) more showy moments. The closing measures contain impressive bravura piano passages, and a fiery finish for full orchestra.
Five works for solo piano fill out the disc, beginning with two related to the sea. They are La sirenetta e il pesce turchino – Flaba marina (The Little Mermaid and the Turquoise Fish – A Marine Fairy Tale) of 1920, and Alghe (Seaweed) from 1919, which Debussy (1862–1918) and Ravel (1875–1937) would have loved. They’re followed by another impressionistic fable from 1921 Vitalba e Biancospino – Flaba silvana (Clematis and Hawthorn – A Forest Fairy Tale).
The last two selections are Passatempi – cinque piccoli Walzer (Diversions – Five Short Waltzes) of 1928, and the world première recording of the 1935 Onde – Due Studi (Waves – Two Études). Lasting roughly a minute each, the waltzes are charming snapshots of old Vienna taken with a camera having a Ravelian lens. The études, which owe a debt to Chopin (1810–1849), are flowing sinusoids. They may well be a musical representation of radio waves, as they were written for Mario’s doctor in payment for some radiotherapy he’d undergone. Judging from these pieces, Doc must have been one heck of a pianist!
You’ll find the next disc with piano music by Dallapiccola not exactly out in twelve-tones-ville, but significantly more chromatically progressive. The first selection is the Piccolo Concerto per Muriel Couvreux (Petite Concerto for Muriel Couvreux) for piano and chamber orchestra from 1939–41. Dedicated to the seven-year-old daughter of Parisian friends, you’ll find it appropriately childlike with pentatonic elements that bring to mind Debussy’s pediatric creations such as the Children’s Corner Suite (1906–08).
Structurally unique, it’s in two tripartite movements with the first consisting of a “pastorale,” “girotondo” (“Ring Around the Rosie”) and “ripresa” (“repise"). It opens as the woodwinds with occasional avian chirps from the piano introduce a lazy eight-note melodic row (LE) that brings to mind a warm summer day. The pace quickens in the whirling “girotondo" where the soloist and tutte frantically chase each other around like small children to a repeated campanological sounding riff derived from LE. They finally fall exhausted to the ground in the lyrically relaxed LE-laced “reprisa" which concludes the first movement.
The opening part of the final movement is a resplendent cadenza for the piano, once again built around LE. It transitions directly into a lovely nocturne for the orchestra based on romanticized fragments of LE decorated with sporadic pianistic ornaments. The ebullient finale recalls previous ideas including LE, and ends the concerto with a joyful D major chord. This music will appeal to the child in everyone!
Three solo piano works are next, beginning with the 1942–43 Sonatina canonica in mi bemolle maggiore su “Capricci" di Niccolò Paganini (Canonical Sonata in Eb major on Caprices by Niccolò Paganini). In four miniature movements, there’s a naive cheerfulness about it that belies the considerable demands placed on the soloist, and some rather involved canonic counterpoint. The last movement is a delightful Marche Miniature based on the fourteenth of Paganini’s 24 Caprices for violin (Op. 1, 1801–07).
The much more intense Tre Episodi dal Balletto “Marsia" (Three Episodes from the Ballet “Marsia”) of 1949–50 derived from his 1948 stage work follows. The composer is beginning to show his dodecaphonic stripes here by unifying all three with a recurring twelve-tone row. Except for this, the piece remains tonal with pentatonic colorations reminiscent of Debussy. The knuckle-busting middle “ostinato” is not for beginners!
The last solo piano selection is the Quaderno musicale di Annalibera (Annalibera Dallapiccola’s Music Notebook) written for the composer’s daughter in 1952. The eleven brief pieces comprising it could be considered a homage to old J.S. Bach (1685–1750) along the lines of the Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook (1722–25), but with no singing. These pieces are tightly interlinked, and meant to be played sequentially at one sitting. Contrapuntally complex, the B-A-C-H (Bb-A-C-B in English notation) motif is used repeatedly as a unifying factor in conjunction with tone-rows, making this the most serialist sounding piece here. But even then, the concluding “quartina” is a melodized version of the basic row that ends these exercises on listener friendly terms.
The disc closes with Due Pezzi per Orchestra (Two Pieces for Orchestra) from 1946–48. This is a symphonic version of a work for violin and piano based on material for an unrealized documentary film about Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca (1415–1492). The opening “Saraband” brings to mind the identically named first of Busoni’s (1866–1924) Two Studies for “Doktor Faust” (1918–19). But the Dallapiccola is serially sinister except for some moderating references to Early Music. The second piece, “Fanfare and Fugue,” opens imperiously, elaborating on ideas in the preceding one. It then ends with a warming burst of light from a C sharp major triad.
Pianist Pietro Massa is our soloist on both discs, and one couldn’t ask for a better advocate of this little-known music. An accomplished technician when it comes to the more demanding passages in the Castelnuovo-Tedesco selections, he shows great sensitivity and restraint in Dallapiccola’s more intricate creations. The Berlin Symphoniker under conductor Alessandro Crudele makes a strong impression providing Signore Massa with impeccable support on the first CD. The same can also be said of conductor Peter Hirsch and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra in regard to the second. Many will find their deeply felt reading of Due Pezzi superior to others out there.
The recordings are excellent, but not quite demonstration quality. The concerto on the first disc was done in a different venue from that used for the orchestral selections on the other. Still the soundstages projected are amazingly similar, with the one for the more conservatively scored Dallapiccola being a bit narrower. The instrumental timbre tends towards the bright side, but reverberant surroundings moderate this to some degree without blurring the sound. The piano in both concertos is well rounded and balanced against the orchestra.
The solo piano pieces on both releases were done in the same studio, and are ideally presented across a generous soundstage in a nurturing acoustic. The recordings accurately capture the forte passages in Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music without any hint of digital grain, as well as the exquisite detail of the more restrained Dallapiccola selections.