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Paul A. Snook
Fanfare, November 2009

this year turns out to be largely nativist—is the Giannini program on Naxos affording us a whole new perspective on the orchestral strengths of a composer who is still largely associated with the vocal and operatic area.

To read the complete review, please visit Fanfare online.

Walter Simmons
Fanfare, November 2009

the work boast a gorgeously luxuriant slow movement, but it is also a masterpiece of symphonic construction, in which each theme is derived from the main theme of the first movement… it is one more example demonstrating that music with immediate accessibility need not be simplistic or otherwise flimsy in its construction.

To read the complete review, please visit Fanfare online.

Paul A. Snook
Fanfare, July 2009

This most significant Naxos release illustrates both major aspects of Giannini’s musical temperament: the youthful, passionate romantic growing out of his Italian-American roots (the 1934 Piano Concerto) and his more sophisticated and harmonically adventurous maturity (the 1960 Fourth Symphony), when he had devised a powerfully convincing manner of amalgamating his lyrico-dramatic impulses within a much more sinewy, concentrated and formally intricate neo-Classic armature.

The 40-minute Piano Concerto is a monumentally hot-blooded, full-throated attempt to create an American counterpart to works such as the Rachmaninoff concertos. But the idiom itself never really sounds at all Slavic or even particularly European, because Giannini has taken the rhapsodic internationalist Warsaw Concerto format (a good decade before that cinematic warhorse made its appearance) and desentimentalized and expanded it to heroic and many-sided proportions, endowing his music with epic dimensions and optimistic aspirations. Throughout its lengthy span, the music maintains its driving vitality without a single dull or repetitious passage. The ideas are distinctive and memorable and they are treated to a large panoply of developmental and dramatist procedures. In this listener’s opinion, this is the big neo-Romantic piano concerto our musical literature has been waiting for—and never even known about for over 70 years. And it casts most comparable efforts in the shadows; that it has had to wait this long to be rediscovered is simply inconceivable.

With the Fourth Symphony—almost half as long as the concerto—we enter a much more emotionally and technically complex universe. The opening movement of the three, appropriately marked Allegro con passione, evokes for this listener the dense and menacing underworld of film noir, and shows that Giannini could (with much less integrity, of course) have flourished in Hollywood. The probing Sostenuto e calmo peaks with a central section that, in the words of our colleague and annotator Walter Simmons, “blossoms into a gorgeously impassioned melody, heard against a background texture of the symphony’s opening motif,” which goes to show how carefully integrated are the product’s of Giannini’s maturity. The Allegro finale, although at first highlighting a burlesque frame of mind, ultimately wraps up the various and conflicting strains of the whole work in a satisfying and joyously trenchant, all-inclusive summation.

These world premiere performances give off an aura of undeviating focus and dedication. Pianist Gabriela Imreh, whose personal note about the concerto displays a genuine authenticity, throws herself into her part with a dazzling combination of passion and precision, while Daniel Spaulding and his English musicians offer clear but idiomatically cogent readings. The Naxos acoustic does full justice to their admirable efforts.

This release is one to help revise our overall view of American music in mid 20th century, and let us hope it is a harbinger of more Giannini to come.

Mark L Lehman
American Record Guide, May 2009

Naxos’s release of Giannini’s 1934 Piano Concerto and 1959 Fourth Symphony adds two more first-ever recordings to this composer’s slender discography. Both are major works that have fallen into obscurity since their premieres. The Concerto is huge and extravagant: in its size (41 minutes), in its stormy, sweeping gestures, in its sustained and carefully-wrought elaboration, in its heroic demands on the soloist’s virtuosity and stamina, in its voluptuous orchestral dress, and most of all in its fervent outpouring of emotion. The avatar is surely Rachmaninoff, though there are echoes of many another grand concerto going back well into the 19th Century. Pianist Gabriela Imreh brings this gorgeous monster to vivid life, supplying not only appropriate panache in the glittering passage-work and assertive power in the triumphant climaxes, but also delicacy and tenderness in the quieter, more restrained moments of the central adagio.

Giannini’s concerto is a remarkably confident work for a young man, technically assured and polished. But it’s not yet the product of a fully mature and fully individual creative personality; certain qualities simply require more time and experience. The Fourth Symphony, by contrast, shows Giannini’s art a quarter of century later; it’s just as warm, just as restless, just as heartfelt, but more poised, more seasoned, more restrained (in both turbulence and ambition). There’s less dependence on inherited rhetoric, less rhapsodic abandon, more discipline in the compact and concentrated formal exposition (it is 24 minutes long). The vocabulary is more modern, too; themes are sometimes sinuous and angular, and harmonies—like Howard Hanson’s, built of fourths as well as more conventional triads—have somewhat more bite, though the scoring remains as sumptuous and full-throated as ever. Curious, also, how the music is more identifiably “American”—it “stands alongside” (as the notes put it) the symphonies of Barber, Creston, Hanson, et al., without actually sounding much like any of them.

I’ve listened to Giannini’s Fourth many times now, enjoying and admiring it more each time and growing to especially love the beautifully melodic and affecting sostenuto e calmo central movement. This is music endowed with generous, humane emotion—the chastened but still potent ardor of a man of wide sympathies and much experience: no longer young, but still—indeed, even more deeply—a romantic.

The Bournemouth Symphony under Daniel Spalding play Giannini very well, clearly enlivened by the joy of discovery; and Naxos’s recording is strong and clear.

Karl Miller
Classical Net, April 2009

Richly expressive, heartfelt music, sympathetically performed.

As the dust settles from the hyperbole of music criticism of the last fifty years, we are beginning to take a look, from a more evenly balanced perspective, at the creative contributions of our American composers of the 20th Century, and judge that music on its own values and not on its place in the evolution of style. I would like to believe that it is judging music on its own worth, versus some stylistic notions of what might have been considered appropriate, is what has lead to this rediscovery of these works by Giannini.

Vittorio Giannini (1903–1966) is one of so many American composers who was overshadowed by the more revolutionary composers of his time. While his Piano Concerto received good notices on its premiere in 1937, it seems to have quickly. It was music of the 19th Century written in the 20th Century. Olin Downes, writing of the New York Premiere, (given by the National Orchestral Association; Roselyn Tureck, piano; Leon Barzin, conducting) opined, “That the invention is operatic, rather than symphonic in outline, is true, nor need be claimed that this score, too heavily orchestrated and too elaborately treated for its material, has very much originality.” I would agree with much of Downes wrote at that time. Surprisingly, he did not seem particularly critical of its conservative style. Downes also states, “The grand peroration at the end is à la Rachmaninoff.” I am reminded of another work which received its first performance in the late 1920s and was severely criticized for being too conservative…Rachmaninoff’s own Fourth Concerto! Perhaps Giannini’s Concerto was not of its time either, but as Downes adds, “The first thing is spontaneity and directness of approach, and this the music has.”

The first movement of the Concerto is a curious mix of styles. One is reminded of the music of Saint-Saens, MacDowell; more Chopinesque than Lisztian. The movement seems a bit long as the thematic material tends to outstay its welcome. The second movement is, to my ears, far more successful. It is clearly a joyous romantic expression of a young man who is in love with the beauty of a singing melodic line. It is gloriously beautiful music. The shape of its thematic material, beginning at the entrance of the solo horn, its exposition and development, suggests to me the slow movement of the Saint-Saens Third Symphony, a work which Giannini had likely heard when it was performed in New York in 1930, just four years before Giannini wrote his Concerto. From a structural standpoint, the rhetoric of the final movement of the Concerto is a bit long, but it is rich with a wealth of attractive thematic material. There is a fugato section which seems a bit out of place. I was expecting the final entrance of the subject to be on the piano, yet the piano only seems to offer a bit of comment on the development of the fugue subject.

The music benefits greatly by the playing of pianist Gabriela Imreh, who puts her obviously substantive technique and interpretive skills to good use. It is clear that she cares about the music and has all of the requisite skill to convey every ounce of its expression. The focus of her interpretation is on the intimacy and lyricism of the music as opposed to any attempt to maximize the bravura. One hopes that she will explore other concerted works of this same era, by the likes of Ornstein, Sowerby, E.B. Hill, Lopatnikoff, Gruenberg, Diamond, Cole, et al. While the Piano Concerto is filled with the rich expression and optimism of a young man, the Fourth Symphony written 25 years later, understandably presents us with a mature composer who is far more introspective and reflective. It is a richly melodic, inspiring expression. To my ears, the music is stylistically similar to the work of another superb composer of this same period of time, and, as of this writing, still composing; Robert Ward.

The slow movement is, for me, the heart of the work. It sings with great beauty. While I don’t know if film composer John Williams had any training under Giannini, I feel as though I would be remiss if I did not mention the similarities between portions of Williams’ magnificent score to Superman, the final third of the track, the “Fortress of Solitude” in particular, and the slow movement of the Giannini Fourth. I believe Williams did study at Juilliard around the same time Giannini wrote his Symphony so perhaps Williams was left with some imprint of Giannini’s work. The Symphony’s finale is full of nobility and strength.

Both Spalding and Imreh deserve great praise for bringing us superb performances of such highly expressive, heartfelt music. Spalding provides a respectful and well-balanced reading to the music. For my tastes he is a bit on the timid side when it comes to exploring the extremes of expression to be found in the music. His approach is most convincing in the slow movements. A tape of the first performance of the Symphony with Morel conducting the Juilliard Orchestra shows that a more vigorous interpretation can be quite effective, even if the quality of the ensemble was wanting, as was the case with the that first performance.

The playing of the Bournemouth Symphony is what this writer has come to expect of that organization…flawless. Expert program notes are provided by that champion of American Music, Walter Simmons. The recorded sound seems a bit distant. I would have also appreciated the piano sound being a bit more forward. Even with minor reservations, this disc is a major contribution to the Naxos series of American Classics.

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, March 2009

In the orchestral music Giannini plunges with no sense of reserve into romantic waters. That sense of immersive adventure is asserted immediately in his 1934 Piano Concerto. This is a work of epic mien and proportions. The style is not difficult to pin down: Giannini was completely in his element with the grandeur and nostalgia of Rachmaninov. This is music that is stirring, evidently sincere and poetic. Chopin might however have been at Giannini’s shoulder in the peaceful Adagio but this stillness is needed after the turbulence and torment of the first movement. The finale resumes the fray but with a closer engagement with Russian models such as the Scriabin and Arensky piano concertos. A fine concerto then—with the grandest emotional span…Giannini wrote seven symphonies. One of these days we will surely have a boxed set. As it is we must take our acquaintance when we can get it. Here is the first recording of the Fourth Symphony—a work in three movements and slightly more than half the length of the Concerto. It belongs comfortably and unblushingly in the company of the neo-romantic symphonies of Creston (2 and 3), Barber (1) and Nicholas Flagello (1). Its Sostenuto e Calmo central movement is glorious, with burnished brass and sheeny lavish string-writing up there with the slow movement of the Rachmaninov Second Symphony. If the finale misses, by a shade, the consistency and concentration of the Barber First and Hanson’s Second it nevertheless projects a sense of implacably constructed symphonic roundedness…

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, March 2009

His creations are highly romantic like those of Howard Hanson (1896–1981) and Samuel Barber (1910–1981), but unlike theirs, Giannini’s are more European than American in spirit. This is evident in the two selections on this new release from the provident folks at Naxos.

Giannini’s forty-minute, three movement piano concerto dating from 1934 apparently receives its first performance here since its première in New York City back in 1937. This is surprising because it’s a monumental, masterfully crafted, arch-romantic peroration that combines the best of Edward MacDowell’s (1860–1908) concertos with those of Sergei Rachmaninov (1873–1943). It opens with a thematic groundswell of an idea for full orchestra with soaring pianistic arpeggios, the first of many fearsome passages for the soloist. A couple of other attractive subjects are then introduced and skillfully developed along with the first. Maybe in keeping with his studies at the Verdi Conservatory in Milan, there’s something quite operatic about this highly dramatic twenty-minute first movement, which ends in a state of melodic ecstasy.

The gorgeous thematic material heard in the adagio is derived from the opening groundswell motif, and the simplicity and directness with which it’s handled may bring to mind Alexander Scriabin’s (1872–1915) piano concerto (1896, see the newsletter of 24 July 2008). Oddly enough there’s something about the opening theme that anticipates the title music Max Steiner (1888–1971) would soon write for the film Gone with the Wind (1939).

The concluding movement begins in a state of melodic malaise, but a magnificently triumphal idea soon emerges. A skittering motif is then introduced followed by another memorable big tune that’s rather cinematic in temperament. A clever central fugal episode with lots of digital fireworks from the soloist is next. This leads into the finale where that big tune heard previously bursts forth in all its glory, ending the concerto in grand romantic fashion.

The disc is filled out with Giannini’s fourth symphony dating from 1959, and like the concerto this is the first performance of it since its première, which was in 1960. A more severe offering of late-romantic persuasion, it’s also in three movements. The opening allegro begins with three thematic ideas, which are respectively tonally queasy, tragically lyrical, and guardedly optimistic. The composer shows what a master craftsman he was by subjecting them to rigorous contrapuntal development where intervals of a fourth and fifth predominate.

In the sostenuto that follows, various solo instruments sing amorous arias before and after a chromatically passionate crescendo-diminuendo. Giannini demonstrates more of his remarkable artisanship in the agitated closing allegro, where he masterfully works in material from the preceding movements. The symphony ends with remembrances of those amatory arias and an explosive tam-tam-laced exclamatory coda for full orchestra.

Pianist Gabriela Imreh tells us in the album notes that it took her over nine months to learn the concerto, but it was time well spent because she plays it to perfection. Except for a couple of brief instances of questionable horn work, conductor Daniel Splading and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra provide her with outstanding support, and give us a stirring account of the symphony.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, March 2009

Giannini’s 1934 Piano Concerto is a fulsome, extrovert, wholly enjoyable work that, so the notes proclaim, hasn’t been performed since 1937. That a work of such melodic generosity has lain dustily encased is no great reflection on cultural arbiters but if it takes Naxos to bring it to wider notice then that’s all to the good. They have a fine protagonist in the shape of the Romanian Gabriela Imreh, a keen Bournemouth band and Daniel Spalding to direct. Spalding has been assiduous in ferreting out American truffles before now—Antheil is something of a Spalding speciality though he’s done other things of course, Hanson among them.

The Giannini Concerto is chockful of dynamism and energy. If it’s a bit prolix now and again, well we can probably admit of a little prolixity in the cause of a Rachmaninovian vision such as this. There’s some want—if we’re being analytical—of real memorability in some of those first movement ideas but I think the central movement makes up for this relative deficit with brimming romance and ‘old fashioned’ lyrical unfolding melodic arches. There’s plenty of variety and contrast in the finale with virtuosic runs and fusillading vibrancy for the soloist—plenty of orchestra colour and rhythmic vivacity too. There’s a lighthearted fugal diversion—often a sign of desperation, here cheeky—and then a driving, passionate surge to the line. Let’s get this one out into the concert hall once in a while.

The Fourth Symphony was written a quarter of a century later. It’s by and large a ‘neo-romantic’ work though that’s always to beg a stylistic and compositional question or two. It’s certainly a much more concise and terse work that the companion concerto—more harmonically advanced, and sporting some slightly surly if passionate themes. The central movement is lyrical and expressive with a harp to the fore. From time to time the brass rather over balance the strings which causes sectional obscurities but the lines for solo violin and winds are delicately taken, not least when Giannini thins his orchestration appreciably. The finale is powerful, with percussion to the fore and moving from terse declamation to a widening grandeur and almost celebratory culmination. Is this one to rack up alongside Hanson and Creston? Perhaps not quite but it’s another work that deserves a real hearing.

Joe Milicia
Enjoy the Music, March 2009

Fans of the classic Mercury recordings of the Eastman Wind Ensemble under Frederick Fennell, along with longtime players in concert bands, are likely to know the name of the Philadelphia-born Vittorio Giannini, whose Symphony No. 3 is an admired staple of the symphonic wind ensemble. Naxos (which recorded that work in 2006) now offers us a chance to hear a pair of true rarities: an early Piano Concerto from 1934 and the Fourth of five numbered symphonies, premiered in 1960. Neither seems to have been played since its premiere, until the ever-zealous Naxos producers recorded the present performances. The works provide an interesting contrast in styles: though composed 25 years apart, their musical idioms make them seem considerably more distant from each other. While neither is likely to enter the standard repertory, fans of the Romantic piano concerto will certainly want to check out Giannini’s contribution, and the Fourth Symphony is a fine addition to the imposing but far too neglected body of mid-20th-century American symphonies.

Composed in 1934, the piano concerto was premiered in 1937 by no less than Rosalyn Tureck (later a famous Bach specialist) with Leon Barzin leading his National Orchestral Association. It got respectable reviews, Olin Downes in the New York Times finding it “significant of an unmistakable talent…a very creditable piece of work,” and the New Yorker critic enjoying its “opulence and expansiveness” and its “orchestral coloring…warm and vivid,” as quoted in Walter Simmons’ program notes for Naxos. But it became a lost work, until conductor Daniel Spalding’s considerable research in library archives. Pianist Gabriela Imreh (Spalding’s wife, incidentally), contributing her own note to Naxos, raves about the “heady, passionate score” with its “fearless, youthful energy, abandon, and an irresistible feel of technical danger,” its “themes that are haunting and beautiful—at times heart-wrenchingly so,” with a “luscious richness of the harmonic palette” recalling “the intoxication of young love” and yet with “complex architectural lines” holding it all together.

Imreh certainly plays with abandon and commitment to the concerto, a grand-scale (41-minute) 3-movement work in the Romantic tradition…Still, there is a great deal to enjoy in Giannini’s work. Some listeners might find some of the elaborate passage work and even a couple of the “big themes” a bit banal rather than thrilling—a bit more going through the gestures of the late-Romantic piano concerto rather than dazzlingly original. But there are some memorable tunes—including the grandly somber opening theme and a sweet slow-movement melody first elaborated by the pianist, then picked up by solo winds, then given the grand treatment. And there is a considerable amount of swagger, carried out with panache by both the soloist and Spalding’s forces, well recorded by Naxos’ engineers, though I would have preferred to hear more distinct wind lines behind the piano sound at times.

The Fourth Symphony, written in 1959, was first performed by Jean Morel and the Julliard Orchestra. (Giannini taught composition at Julliard for many years before becoming founding president of the North Carolina School of the Arts in the early 1960s.) It’s a compact 23-minute work in three movements, most of its musical material derived from an opening 12-note theme, including all notes of the chromatic scale, as Simmons points out, though the piece is not in any strict way a 12-tone (serial) composition in the Schoenberg manner. Though this theme, “restless and tonally vague,” moodily opens the piece, the work is overall quite tonal and should appeal to listeners who enjoy, say, the symphonies of David Diamond or Walter Piston. The slow movement is quite lovely, with its clarinet and French horn duet to open, a passionate full-orchestra climax, and a violin and oboe duet near the end. Listeners might hear an occasional echo of Howard Hanson or perhaps Samuel Barber. The finale has a scherzo rhythm but its dramatic climax returns us to the material of the slow movement, before a fleet ending. It might be revelatory to hear the work performed by one of the great American orchestras, but the Bournemouth Symphony under Spalding acquits itself very well indeed.

David Hurwitz, March 2009

Vittorio Giannini wrote seven symphonies and other orchestral works, and we badly need to get to know them. Today the only piece with a tenuous hold on the repertoire is his marvelous symphony for band, a linchpin of the old Mercury Living Presence catalog. His Piano Concerto is a show-stopper: 40 minutes of sweeping melodies, harmonically colorful sequences, acres of virtuosity—it’s just plain good stuff and it would bring the house down in concert. Apparently this is its first performance since its premiere in 1937—scandalous! Happily, Gabriela Imreh flings herself at the piece and delivers an excellent performance of the elaborate solo part, while Daniel Spalding & Co. accompany enthusiastically.

The terse (23-minute), three-movement Fourth Symphony of 25 years later reveals a more mature composer writing in a fresher, more acerbic idiom. Giannini’s progress somewhat recalls that of Roussel, moving from Romantic to spiky (but still basically lyrical) neoclassicism. The use of fourth-based harmony somewhat recalls Hindemith, though with more colorful orchestration and more fluid rhythms. Again, the performance has plenty of the necessary rhythmic thrust, and the sound is good, but with some odd balances typical of Naxos productions in Bournemouth—an exaggerated front-to-back depth—but this never gets in the way of the music itself. More Giannini, please.

Uncle Dave Lewis, March 2009

Little has been heard of Giannini’s music has been heard since his death in 1966; however, pianist Gabriela Imreh, conductor Daniel Spalding, and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra have stepped into this gaping breach with Naxos’ Giannini: Piano Concerto; Symphony No. 4, which addresses both sides of Giannini’s intriguing musical personality.

The Piano Concerto was written in 1934 and premiered by Rosalyn Tureck three years later; it is, and does, everything that an expansive, expressive, big-boned piano concerto akin to the sound of Rachmaninoff should be or do; it has memorable tunes, a broadly ambitious formal plan that keeps the music moving forward with efficiency and without discursiveness, and provides the pianist with a lot of room both to emote and to throw off some firecrackers. Imreh does so here; she is obviously passionately devoted to this concerto and puts everything into it, and Spalding—who is Imreh’s husband—follows suit; you can feel the love in every bar of this passionate and painstaking performance. One might not fault Imreh and Spalding for feeling a sense of propriety in regard to this work; it was never published, and the score basically lost for 75 years until shortly before this recording was made. It is almost as though Giannini wrote it for them.

Giannini did not number all of his seven symphonies, some of which were for band, and the band works have managed to some small extent to keep his name in the concert hall; however, Giannini’s Symphony No. 4 (1960) is a full-fledged orchestral work and in a chronological sense the sixth of his symphonies. It shows that Giannini was not altogether hostile to the developing trends of his day, but was looking for a way to work them into the fabric of his already existing style, much as Samuel Barber was in the Piano Concerto he wrote for John Browning around the same time. While the desire to strike a more direct connection with Barber is tempting, there is a vast difference between him and Giannini; the Symphony No. 4 is less lyrical and emphasizes symphonic development over most other considerations, though one can definitely hear the connection between this symphony and the music of Giannini’s student Nicolas Flagello.

Vittorio Giannini’s refusal to tow the serial line may have lost him his bid for critical acceptance and, ergo, more than a tenuous connection to posterity, and in the 1970s one might have successfully argued that this was the natural order of things. However, there is no reason at all in the years after 2000 to continue to sideline his solid, well-crafted, imaginative, and emotionally communicative music, and Imreh and Spalding deserve kudos for dragging this fine concerto and neglected symphony out of the shadows. Anyone who values the Rachmaninoff concerti should hear this Giannini effort, and that’s a lot of listeners; perhaps the potential audience for this music is greater than anyone can imagine, though specialist listeners should also find considerable reward here.

Peter Dickinson
Gramophone, March 2009

A highly justified revival—now to make the work more widely available

Vittorio Giannini was a prolific American composer of Italian ancestry and sympathies who taught at various institutions including the Juilliard School. John Corigliano was a pupil. This CD remedies a strange case of neglect since neither of these substantial works appears to have been performed again after its premiere.

Romanian-born Gabriela Imreh is the heroine of the Piano Concerto (1934), premiered in New York by Rosalind Tureck in 1937 and well received. The substantial three-movement work is triumphantly retrospective in an idiom somewhere between Grieg and Rachmaninov. All the tricks of the Romantic concerto are applied in scoring and keyboard textures. The declamatory first movement alone is over 20 minutes; the Adagio echoes Chopin; and the final Burlesca veers between the epic and the academic, including a fugue. Imreh had to contend with manuscript and, in a personal note, admits she was uncertain about bringing the work to life again. She was right to do so and, quite apart from the musical challenges she identifies, there’s masses of beefy bravura that she delivers with stunning command. The Concerto now ought to be published and made available to more performers.

Giannini’s Fourth Symphony (1959), one of seven, is close to the mainstream American symphonic tradition of the mid-20th century. In a more advanced style, without marked individuality but admirably controlled, he still creates long spacious melodies. Performances and recordings do complete justice to these revivals.

Robert R. Reilly, February 2009

…the whole of the 20th century has only slowly come into view after the demise of 12-tone hegemony allowed it to. The extent of the damage from the domination of serial music in the mid-20th century keeps popping up in the form of recently revived, heretofore neglected music from that era. Otherwise, how can one account for the fact that Vittorio Giannini’s full-blown, romantic Piano Concerto and his Symphony No. 4 are each receiving only their second performances for the purposes of a new Naxos recording (8.559352)? They were debuted in, respectively, 1937 and 1960. Anyone who loves Rachmaninoff will be swept away by the big-boned, gorgeously melodic Piano Concerto, dashingly played by Gabriela Imreh, with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestral, under Daniel Spalding.

Giannini’s Fourth Symphony leaves youthful romanticism aside for music that is more tautly and closely argued, though just as, if not even more, compelling than the piano work. Giannini said that he was motivated by “an unrelenting quest for the beautiful, with the humble hope that I may be privileged to achieve this goal, if only for one precious moment and share this moment with my listeners.” He certainly achieved more than “one precious moment” in the second movement, Sostenuto e calmo; it has to be one of the most beautiful, stirring movements in the American symphonic repertoire. How could this possibly be only the second performance of something this wonderful?

Conductor Daniel Spalding gets the British Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra to play as if to the American manner born. The first chair players in oboe, clarinet, horn, and violin all deserve huzzahs. Booklet notes are by the finest critic of American music, Walter Simmons. This release is a huge gift, at budget price. Please Naxos, give us the other four Giannini symphonies with these same forces.

Scott Morrison, February 2009

Daniel Spalding and the Bournemouth Symphony do an outstanding job of presenting these works in a positive light…Once again we owe thanks for the highly informative booklet notes of Walter Simmons, the leading scholar-advocate for the valuable roster of neo-romantic American composers, whose book ‘Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers’ is a must-have for anyone interested in this sub-genre of American music.

Gregory M. Walz, February 2009

Lush, tart and absolutely mesmerizing

…the recording of these two scores reveals why Naxos for some time has been the premiere classical music label…the depth and breadth of their coverage of the classical music idiom in a vast array of countries cannot be challenged.

Giannini’s piano concerto is long but never outstays its welcome, largely due to the sweeping lyricism tempered by a mastery of orchestration. Yes, there are hints of Rachmaninov, but never hints of what I sometimes find to be Rachmaninov’s excess of notes to achieve a precisely desired splashy effect.

The Symphony No. 4 is beautifully balanced by two denser outer movements that frame a magically gripping central movement labeled sostenuto e calmo. The outer movements merge great contrasts in dynamics with lush but tartly haunting lyricism. Despite being labeled neo-Romantic (or maybe rather because of it), this symphony is as powerful and masterful as any American symphony written in the twentieth century, and all in 23 minutes no less. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Daniel Spalding appear to astonished by the power, grip, and cohesion of the symphony, and it shows. There is a real depth and sheen to their sonority, some credit for which must go to Giannini’s densely piquant scoring. The recording quality is excellent for the symphony, but perhaps a little too spacious for the concerto…

S. J. Bonsor, February 2009

The Piano Concerto (1937) is an expansive and fertile work, clearly the endeavour of a young composer flexing his artistic muscles, but engaging, colourful and abundantly melodic. It could be argued that, at nearly 42 minutes long, it might have benefited from some judicious re-working, but when that timespan is so jam-packed with memorable ideas, I’m happy to have the concerto just as it is. The piece grows in stature with repeated listening, and I’d advise anyone buying this disc to give it a good listen and forgive any minor lapses in musical structure.

The soloist, Gabriela Imreh, has clearly taken a great deal of trouble to assimilate the concerto, and her earnest efforts have brought us ample rewards. This is no mere sight-read run-through, it is a reading of some intelligence and insight. Imreh is a powerful pianist who takes the considerable challenges of this concerto in her stride: where Giannini rings every trick in the book, Imreh handles them with ease and manages to convey a convincing musical argument.

This big-boned romantic concerto, has bags of character and supercedes any obvious musical influences with a clear identity of its own.

The Fourth Symphony (1960), in contrast to the concerto, is a mature work, tightly argued and compact, which is more than a match for any 20th Century American symphony—one thinks of Roy Harris or Walter Piston. It is a satisfying and superbly crafted piece with an accessible architecture and cogent melodic content. Both pieces receive exemplary performances by the BSO under Daniel Spalding, with all departments in sharp focus and on top form., February 2009

His music…has considerable emotional sweep and intensity. But little of it has caught on—although Giannini himself wrote a symphony for band (his third). Both Giannini’s Piano Concerto (1935) and his Symphony No. 4 (1960) have gone unperformed for decades. It is actually fairly easy to understand why—without in any way denying the many attractions of the works. The problem is that there is no distinctive Giannini “sound.” The concerto owes much to Rachmaninoff, while Symphony No. 4 sounds like a variety of other composers without ever establishing a unique thematic or sonic identity. The Bournemouth Symphony, one of the most versatile orchestras around, handles both works with fine attentiveness, its sections excellently balanced in the symphony and its accompaniment well proportioned in the concerto. Gabriela Imreh plays very well indeed, and Daniel Spalding is a fine conductor who seems thoroughly to understand Giannini’s music. The faster movements of the works—notably the concerto’s concluding Burlesca—are more interesting than the slower ones, whose emotions seem more borrowed than heartfelt. The Giannini CD gets a (+++) rating: this is music that is interesting but not compelling.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2009

‘A quest for the beautiful, with the humble hope that I may be privileged to achieve this goal, if only for one precious moment and share this moment with my listeners’. So wrote Vittorio Giannini, the American composer of Italian parentage and born in Philadelphia in 1903. Educated in Milan and New York, he became a long-serving compositional teacher at major colleges including Juilliard, Curtis and Manhattan Schools of Music. He was a reactionary against the musical trends that surrounded him in the first half of the 20th century, remaining true to the romantic era. Though it appears in Naxos’s American Classics series, Giannini’s background was rooted in a West European culture and this is evident in the whole disc. If you are looking for a guide as to content and know the music of Roy Harris, then you can place Giannini in the same musical era. The Fourth Symphony—he wrote seven—dates from 1959 and is in three comparatively short movements, the outer ones busy, while the central slow movement is a score of quiet intensity. The mercurial finale offers an orchestral showpiece, the Bournemouth Symphony, with the American conductor, Daniel Spalding, responding with assured playing that belies the fact that both works on the disc are World Premiere Recordings. In contrast to the symphony, the Piano Concerto erupts with a big and bold theme signaling a score of considerable power, Rachmaninov appearing as the inspiration. Throughout the movement the piano role is quite daunting in its demands, but finds a gifted exponent in the Romanian-born Gabriela Imreh, technical challenges brushed aside in a mood of pure power. The slow movement comes from the late 19th century, while the finale, marked Burlesca is a whirlwind of effervescent happiness. Excellent hard-hitting sound.

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