About this Recording
8.570932 - MARTUCCI, G.: Orchestral Music (Complete), Vol. 4 (Rome Symphony, La Vecchia) - Piano Concerto No. 2 / Momento musicale e Minuetto / Novelletta
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Giuseppe Martucci (1856–1909): Complete Orchestral Music • 4
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 66 • Pieces for Orchestra


Giuseppe Martucci was born in Capua on 6 January 1856 and had initial piano lessons from his father. He gave recitals with his sister before he was nine and was a full-time student at the Real Collegio in Naples from 1868, studying the piano with Beniamino Cesi and composition with Paolo Serrao, whose advocacy of the Austro-German repertoire, unusual in Italy for that time, had a decisive influence on Martucci. Returning to the concert platform in 1874, he gave his first Milan recital the next year and subsequently toured to London and Dublin. 1878 saw him in Paris, where his abilities as pianist and composer were warmly applauded, but more significant had been his appointment the previous year as principal conductor of the newly formed Orchestra Napoletana, which gave its first public concert in January 1881 and by 1884 was widely considered the best in Italy.

In 1886 Martucci was appointed to three major posts in Bologna, notably the directorship of the Liceo Musicale, which enabled him to develop further as an academic and conductor, championing a broad range of nineteenth-century orchestral music and appearing as a guest-conductor in cultural centres throughout Western Europe, while also acting as mentor to many younger Italian composers. In 1902 he returned to Naples to take up the directorship of the Conservatorio (formerly the Real Collegio), in which city he continued his programming of new or unfamiliar orchestral and operatic repertoire, though his health was by now declining and he died in Naples on 1 June 1909.

From the start of his career as a pianist Martucci extended the repertoire, with Bach, Rameau and Scarlatti all prominent in his recitals. As a conductor, he helped to make Berlioz, Schumann and Brahms (the Italian première of whose Second Symphony he gave in 1882), familiar to Italian audiences, while his championing of Wagner saw the Italian première of Tristan und Isolde in 1888 and Neapolitan première of Götterdämmerung less than a year before his death. British music was also well represented (he programmed Stanford’s Irish Symphony on several occasions), while his interest in French music saw him advocate Franck, d’Indy and latterly Debussy.

Although the piano dominates Martucci’s output (notably his earlier years), he wrote several major chamber works, including a Piano Quintet, two Piano Trios and sonatas for violin and cello, with orchestral music represented by various transcriptions as well as two symphonies and two piano concertos. These latter enjoyed only limited success in Italy, but his standing as the foremost Italian orchestral composer in the later nineteenth century was widely acknowledged.

Written as a vehicle for his own pianism, the Second Piano Concerto (1885) was given its première by Martucci at Naples in 1886 and remains the best known of his larger works. He later gave a performance in Milan with Arturo Toscanini, who went on to champion both this and the two symphonies throughout his long career, while a New York performance in 1911 proved to be the final concert conducted by Mahler. Embodying the virtuoso concerns of its era, the work yet has a distinct personality and an intrinsic conviction that make it a highpoint from among the plethora of Romantic piano concertos.

The first movement starts with a terse orchestral gesture, which the soloist takes up in a virtuosic passage leading to the animated first theme being expounded between them. Impetus relaxes for the second theme, initially entrusted to piano and featuring intricate passagework, before reaching a climax where elements of both themes are intensively combined. Momentum spills over into a dramatic orchestral tutti that dies down, allowing the soloist and latterly woodwind to reflect on the second theme in a passage which, joined by strings, accrues a fair emotional ardour. The first theme is presently reintroduced as part of a modified reprise, duly taking in the second theme before a solemn brass passage makes way for an extensive and highly-wrought cadenza that makes resourceful use of all the main thematic material. Although re-entering quietly, the orchestra soon ratchets up tension as the movement heads to its powerfully dramatic close. The slow movement opens with restful music on strings, solo horn accompanying the piano as it sets out the limpid main melody. The central section revolves around a sustained theme for lower strings that builds in intensity to a forceful confrontation between soloist and orchestra, after which the initial melody returns on woodwind decorated by delicate piano arabesques. At length it receives a full restatement that moves into a poetic coda for piano and woodwind. The finale begins with a darting but not entirely serious theme discussed between soloist and orchestra, complemented by an insouciant theme given to strings in which the piano has an initially supporting rôle. Its rapidity carries through to a central section in which aspects of both themes are commented on by woodwind and strings with the piano again largely in support, The pace slackens for the reintroduction of the second theme, but the prevailing animation is not to be banished and, underpinned by scintillating piano work, the movement heads onward to its breathless close.

Although Martucci never essayed a string quartet, in 1893 he transcribed for the medium two earlier piano pieces, which are heard here in a straightforward adaptation for string orchestra. Momento musicale (1884), followed immediately on this recording by the Minuetto (1880), is the first of three pieces published as his Op. 64, its wistfulness and grace unerringly suited to a larger string group. Minuetto is the first of two pieces published as his Op. 55 and consists of a rhythmic idea surrounding a more lilting theme that makes the briefest of recurrences in the winsome coda.

Two of Martucci’s last opuses are allotted to sets of three piano pieces. Novelletta (1905) is the second piece in the former set, published as his Op. 82, and transcribed for orchestra two years later: the imagination and resourcefulness such as to make one regret the composer did not live to write another large-scale work. This piece is also among his most unpredictable formally, its capering main theme enclosing a more elusive idea, framed by an atmospheric introduction then a teasingly ‘un-final’ conclusion.

Among the most attractive of all Martucci miniatures, Serenata (1886) was the second of two piano pieces published as his Op. 57 and transcribed for strings in 1893. Over an undulating figure, violins unfold a melody whose ingratiating lyricism is enhanced by the warmth of the central section, before the gentle coda brings a serene close. All the more surprising that this piece, which might have proved a surefire success for the composer, was unpublished during his lifetime and has only become available in recent years.

The third of six pieces published as his Op. 44, Colore orientale (1880) is also the earliest among Martucci’s various orchestral transcriptions and, for all the covert Turkish associations of its engaging outer sections, its melodious middle section is a telling reminder that his music never sacrificed its Italian essence.

Richard Whitehouse

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