About this Recording

Italian Festival

Jules Massenet (1842 - 1912)
Suite No.5: Scènes napolitaines
La danse
La procession et L'improvisateur
La fête

Benjamin Godard (1849 - 1895)
Scènes italiennes
Sérénade florentine

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809 - 1847)
Gondolier's Song

Franz Liszt (1809 - 1886)

Ruggiero Leoncavallo (1857 - 1919)

César Cui (1853 - 1918)

Gustave Charpentier (1860 - 1956)
Impressions d'ltalie (No.5 Naples)

Charles Gounod (1818 - 1893)

Luigi Denza (1846 - 1922)
Funiculi, funicula

With two exceptions the musical pictures of Italy included in the Italian Festival are the work of foreigners who found fascination and inspiration in the country. Jules Massenet, the son of a man who made his fortune in the manufacture of scythes and later lost much of it, captures the magic of the Italian dance, Italian opera and drama, and religious life in the three scenes from Naples that form his fifth orchestral suite, written in 1876. His victory in the Prix de Rome in Paris in 1863, brought him opportunity to travel in Italy, of which he and his companions took advantage. The stay in Italy brought the first of his orchestral suites, Pompéia, of obvious enough provenance. The Neapolitan scenes were the product of the next decade, written at the outset of his successful career as a composer of opera and exhibiting the marked technical skill he always possessed, his deft handling of the orchestra and facility in melodic invention.

Benjamin Godard, a Parisian by birth, failed to win that mark of official French approval, the Prix de Rome, but won himself an early reputation as a composer of salon music and as a viola-player of distinction. As a composer his talent was for lighter music, and attempts at anything more weighty were not entirely successful. The three Italian scenes include a Florentine serenade, a delicately elegant version of the traditional shepherd dance of Sicily, long adopted into Northern European instrumental repertoire, and the frenetic Neapolitan dance, the Tarantella.

A precocious child of rich parents, Felix Mendelssohn completed his education with a Grand Tour, spending months in Italy, where he was able to write his evocative Italian Symphony, while working on another travel symphony inspired by Scotland, a country he had visited the year before his stay in Italy. The Gondolier's Song is arranged for orchestra from one of the popular Songs without Words, piano pieces of original conception, with the miniature perfection of songs, but relying on the more abstract art of music alone.

Franz Liszt, a true cosmopolitan, was born in Hungary, moved to Vienna, and then to Paris, which remained his home through adolescence, when he was not travelling as a virtuoso pianist. A liaison with a married woman set him on years of travel -years of pilgrimage, he was to call them - and above all to Italy. Here he found inspiration, if not in his mistress, whom he was later to send back to Paris, in the poems of Petrarch, the pictures of Salvatore Rosa, the buildings and fountains, and, as here, in the wild dance of Naples, the Tarantella, the final section of Venezia e Napoli, originally a composition for piano solo. In old age he was to return to Italy on a very real pilgrimage, devoting himself very largely to the study of the music of the Church, taking minor orders and living a relatively comfortable monastic life, interspersed with travel back to Weimar and to Hungary.

Mattinata, a song by the Italian composer Ruggiero Leoncavallo, with words by the composer, was written in 1904 for Caruso and the G & T recording company. This and the opera I Pagliacci are the two significant successes of an uneven career, and by these compositions he is chiefly remembered. Pagliacci was written in an effort to outmatch Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. For subsequent generations Cav and Pag have served as Siamese twins of the operatic repertoire.

Russian composers were among those who found interest in Italy. Tchaikovsky, captivated by the charms of a street-singer, wrote his Capriccio Italien in memory of his experiences there, while César Cui, a professor of military engineering who detested the un-Russian tendencies of Tchaikovsy, turned to Naples in 1859, the year of his operetta The Mandarin's Son, for his orchestral Tarantelle.

The Impressions d'ltalie of Gustave Charpentier return us to France. He studied composition with Massenet, after dismissal from the Paris Conservatoire after disagreements with Massart, his violin-teacher, but won the Prix de Rome in 1887 and during intermittent periods of compulsory residence at the Villa Medici, in partial compliance with the terms of the award, he conceived his Impressions of Italy, the whole work a five-movement symphonic suite, ending, as such suites had to, with a visit to Naples.

The Grand Prix de Rome fell to Charles Gounod in 1839, and in the Eternal City the young French composer came under the spell of Palestrina. His own church music, pervasively influential in his time, was to take on a very different hue. A prolific composer, he wrote his masterpiece Faust in 1859, provided a wealth of church music and song sacred and secular, while exercising a strong influence over the following generation of French composers. His Saltarello was apparently written in 1865, an imaginative version of an Italian dance that has much in common with the Tarantella in rhythm and movement.

Funiculi, funicula, is by Luigi Denza, in later life a professor of singing at the Royal Academy of Music in London, after his own earlier education and career in Naples, where he wrote an opera on Schiller's Wallenstein. The song, one of 500 odd that Denza wrote, achieved in his own time the reputation of a folk-song, and as such was used by Richard Strauss in his own evocation of Italy, Aus Italien, and was orchestrated by the Russian Rimsky-Korsakov.

Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. The orchestra was first conducted by the Prague conductor František Dyk and in the course of the past fifty years of its existence has worked under the batons of several prominent Czech and Slovak conductors. Ondrej Lenard was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its conductor-in-chief. The orchestra has recently given a number of successful concerts both at home and abroad, in West and East Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, and Great Britain.

Ondrej Lenard
Ondrej Lenard was born in 1942 and had his early training in Bratislava, where, at the age of 17, he entered the Academy of Music and Drama, to study under Ludovit Rajter. His graduation concert in 1964 was given with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and during his two years of military service he conducted the Army Orchestral Ensemble, later renewing an earlier connection with the Slovak National Opera, where he has continued to direct performances.

Lenard's work with the Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava began in 1970 and in 1977 he was appointed Principal Conductor. At the same time he has travelled widely abroad in Europe, the Americas, the Soviet Union and elsewhere as a guest conductor, and during his two years, from 1984 to 1986, as General Music Director of the Slovak National Opera recorded for OPUS operas by Puccini, Gounod, Suchon and Bellini.

For Naxos Lenard has recorded symphonies by Tchaikovsky and works by Glazunov, Johann Strauss II, Verdi and Rimsky-Korsakov.

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