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The Greatest Story Ever Played

December 22, 2014


Alessandro Marangoni

Alessandro Marangoni’s recent Naxos release of Evangélion, written for piano solo by fellow Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, is an immensely attractive rarity. With an extended seasonal appeal, it tells the story of Jesus, from the Nativity to the Resurrection, with a focused intensity that is spread over 28 short tableaux.

We asked Alessandro about the background to the recording and for his observations about the work from both the listener’s and the performer’s perspective.

Q
How did you come across Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Evangélion, and what made you decide to record it?

A
Some time ago I recorded Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Piano Concertos for Naxos. During that period I had the chance to both study and research other works by this amazing Italian composer. Reading his autobiography, edited by James Westby, I found some pages dedicated to Evangélion. I was really surprised by this title because it’s not common to find a work inspired by Christ’s life written by a Jewish composer. So I contacted Lisbeth Castelnuovo-Tedesco, the composer’s niece, who helped me in looking for the score. When I found it, I read the whole piece at the piano without a pause. I was speechless at its beauty.

Q
Are there difficulties with performing this piece in its entirety in recital? Does it lend itself more to armchair listening?

A
It’s a long piece, but of course it’s possible to play it in its entirety in a recital program. Evangélion is easy to listen to, but at the same time it is really communicative and emotionally rich. For the performer it is a story to tell throughout short 28 pieces, like Preludes. Following the will of the composer to combine music with text and images, my live performances of Evangélion are a joint undertaking with Claudia Koll, the well known Italian actress, supported by 3-D video images, to guide the listeners through the story. In fact, Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote some textual references to the Four Gospels at the beginning of each piece, plus a number of notations within the sections. We could say that Evangélion is a “Fifth Gospel”, a Gospel written in music through the suggestions of the Four Gospels and the images taken from art history and from Holy Land landscapes. The author was mainly interested in the humanity of Christ, following the Hebrew musical and liturgical tradition.

Q
Can you explain what are the challenges for the performer with music of this type, which comes in short sound-bites and often appears not to be harmonically or technically challenging?

A
The challenge is in the sound itself: this work is not so difficult technically in terms of the notes, but the challenge is trying to describe images with the sound, using a lot of colors and all the expressive possibilities of the instrument.

Q
In the sleeve notes, the piece is subtitled “The story of Jesus, narrated to the children in 28 little pieces.” In your experience, does the music appeal to children and adults alike? If so, how? That’s a quality not easily achieved.

A
Children and adults have very different ways of listening to music, especially when internalising what they are hearing. I think there are two types of easiness or difficulty in Evangélion. The first is a progressive escalation of piano technique: the first pieces are easier to play than the last ones, with fewer notes and technical hurdles. The second is an aesthetic complexity referred to in the unfolding episodes of Jesus’ life: the more direct narration in the first part gradually becomes full of connections that demand a deeper analysis, especially in the final tableaux that are concerned with Christ’s Passion.


Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

Q
What aspects of the music are typical of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s style?

A
The work’s great musicality and thematic invention are, of course, typical of Castelnuovo-Tedesco, influenced by his works for Hollywood. It’s a style that winks at the past with a marked Italian “voice”, singing away at the piano, and each movement like a musically conceived painting.

Q
Working from the inside of the music, which aspects of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s composing technique impress you the most in this work?

A
The ability to express an entire world in few bars: each episode of Jesus’ life is set to music with an incredible brevity and completeness at the same time, which I consider to be a sign of a unique virtuosity. The work is dedicated to Nino Rota, who considered Evangélion to be Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s piano masterpiece.

Now available:

CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO Evangélion
Alessandro Marangoni
8.573316

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Biography & Discography

Alessandro Marangoni Biography & Discography










 
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