About this Recording
8.570434 - CALACE: Mandolin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Rhapsodia Napoletana

Raffaele Calace (1863–1934)
Mandolin Concerto No. 1, Op. 113
Mandolin Concerto No. 2, Op. 144
Rapsodia napoletana, Op. 66
Polonese, Op. 36
Danza dei nani, Op. 43


The mandolin has enjoyed periods of immense popularity in the past three hundred years. It has also suffered, frequently, from poor representation resulting in people being unaware of the power, agility, colour and breathtaking expressiveness the instrument is truly capable of in the right hands.

There were no safer hands than those of the virtuoso player Raffaele Calace. He has become, perhaps, the singularly most important figure in the mandolin's history. Calace was born in Naples in 1863 into a family of established mandolin and guitar makers. Raffaele and his brother were encouraged from an early age to follow into the family business. Both also became talented players and composers. Raffaele excelled in all three pursuits. He studied composition at the Regio Conservatorio di Musica in Naples and graduated with distinction. He then set about putting the mandolin into what he considered to be its rightful place amongst the musical circles of the world.

Raffaele Calace was a player of incredible virtuosity. He took mandolin techniques to new levels and was greatly admired for his expressive and beautiful playing. He travelled the world playing, frequently performing his own music. Among his most notable visits was a tour in Japan in 1924/5 when he played to the Emperor and was awarded The Third Order of the Sacred Treasure. Calace's many works for mandolin and piano are part of his output of over 170 pieces for mandolin, in which he frequently pushed the mandolin to its limits. As a mandolin maker he was pivotal in increasing the range of the instrument up to a'''' by extending the fingerboard over the sound hole. As a player he made full use of this extended range as well as developing and perfecting techniques that gave the mandolin more dimensions and allowed for huge ranges in dynamic and tonal contrasts.

This recording features two of his most substantial and revered works, Concerto No. 1, Op. 113, dedicated to the great mandolinist Giuseppe Pettine and Concerto No. 2, Op. 144, both originally written for mandolin and piano. As far as we can gather Calace never intended these works to be orchestrated. He appeared to use the label 'Concerto' to signify a substantial three-movement concert work rather than the traditional format of soloist and orchestra. Indeed the piano writing in these works is far more than an accompaniment. Calace makes great use of the instrument's natural strengths, characteristics and colours. Both instruments play equal parts and constantly interact, each frequently alternating between melody, accompaniment and countermelody. In these works Calace makes use of just about every mandolin technique available to him, the tremolo (the mandolin's sustaining mechanism; a rapidly repeated note giving the illusion of a sustained note), two-, three- and four-string tremolo, duo-style (two-part writing where the player keeps a tremolo going while simultaneously picking out struck accompaniments, giving the impression of a duet), harmonics, false harmonics, arpeggio patterns (various different chordal-based right-hand string-crossing patterns), left- and right-hand pizzicato, glissando runs (usually starting on a very high note; the first section of the run is a controlled glissando down the E string with individual note runs taking over half way down), and cadenza passages. The concertos are substantial three-movement works, contrasting, in both cases, a profound and striking first movement, a reflective and emotionally charged slow movement and a skittish, virtuosic third movement. Calace is at his most effective writing slow, sustained romantic works for mandolin and there is no finer example than the expansive slow movement of Concerto No. 1. If a single musical example could demonstrate the range, emotion and expressiveness of the mandolin, this movement is it.

The remaining three works included are often considered to be mandolin 'party pieces'. Rapsodia napoletana is essentially, as the title suggests, a fantasy or rhapsody celebrating well known Neapolitan songs. Some of these songs will be familiar to the modern listener. Many are merely hinted at, while some are heard almost in full. The piece overall is light-hearted and perhaps pokes fun at the popular songs of Calace's day. Polonese is probably the most frequently performed piece to be included and is often heard in arrangements with guitar accompaniment to replace the piano. It is full of the Italian bravura often associated with the mandolin. In contrast Danza dei nani (Dance of the Elves) is a fun and frivolous show-piece which demonstrates the agility of the mandolin and the piano, especially in the final dash to the end.

Alison Stephens


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