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Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, February 2007

We have Records International to thank for this unusual disc, which seems to have originated in 2001 as a private European promotional release that was never brought into the U.S. The three delightful works for strings appearing here come from a trio of modern day Italian composers. Salvatore Messina (1876-1930) died before he could orchestrate his final opera La beffa a Don Chisciotte, but Paolo Pessina (b. 1969) arranged a suite for strings from it, and that's what he conducts here. It's in seven sections and cannot help but appeal to those who love the music of Umberto Giordano and Pietro Mascagni. The adagio, which is derived from an aria in the opera, is absolutely lovely. Next there’s a concerto for strings by the great Nino Rota (1911-1979). Well known for his film scores, he also composed a large body of outstanding music for the concert hall, and this piece is no exception. The wistful first movement is followed by a robust scherzo and heartfelt adagio, which pays hommage to Johann Sebastian Bach's Air on the G String. It concludes frenetically and in cyclical fashion with references to previous thematic material. Composer-conductor Pessina (see above) is represented here by his Concertango, which is an ingenious contemporary version of an eighteenth-century concerto grosso spiked with rhythms typical of the legendary Argentinian dance referred to in the title. This is particularly true of the second movement where Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi meet Astor Piazzolla. Then, as if to throw us off balance, there's an intermezzo that begins just like Anton Karas' Third Man Theme. The finale is a kind of satanic tango into the abyss that's based on the Dies Irae and ends with a whistle from the archfiend himself. This very clever piece has a lot going for it, and so do the other selections. The performances are so energetic and committed that it's easy to overlook some occasional intonational anomalies, and the sound is quite good.

Marco del Vaglio
Agire, December 2006

Italian Classical Music between past and present in a new Naxos CD.

This most recent Naxos CD, where the composers, the orchestra, and the conductor are all Italian, represents, from our point of view, a small miracle.

Three works are recorded, beginning with the suite from La Beffa a Don Quixote (The mockery of Don Quixote), an unfinished work by the Sicilian composer Salvatore Messina (1876- 1930), in a transcription for string orchestra by the young Milanese composer Paolo Pessina (b. 1969).

This is an interesting recovery project, directed towards one of the numerous authors who were active in a period, between the two world wars, that today is still unnoticed. Moreover, because of Messina’s premature passing, which occurred in 1930, his name was soon forgotten, despite of the fame he had acquired during his life.

We cannot discern, in the suite, what must be attributed to Messina, and what, instead, comes exclusively from Pessina’s hand. In any case, from what we can intuitively grasp, the music of Messina seems to be still very linked to melodrama, with some peaks of modernity, though always very moderate, which recall the great works of Casella, (another name that was banned for political reasons).

The second piece on the CD, the Concerto for Strings by Nino Rota (1911- 1979), certainly a more well known musical figure, though less performed recently. The great Milanese composer has been the victim of prejudices, because many claim that those who write film music cannot be considered true composers, and accuse even his non-cinematic works of a certain superficiality….

Before casting any further judgment, we invite every listener to become more informed about various composers, both Italian and from other countries, such as Rustichelli, Nicolai, Trovajoli, Korngold, and Steiner (just to name a few), who have lent their musical genius to cinema.

Without further discussion, let us move on to the Concertango, Op. 55, by Paolo Pessina, the last of the three works on the Naxos CD. Here the young composer presents a piece where both the classic and modern are present, with the baroque concerto grosso juxtaposed with Argentine tango (and a rhythm that swings from ragtime to gypsy sounds in the last-but-one movement). In the end, the modern prevails over the antique, but without destroying it, even if in the final movement (Finaltango) one can discern the sinister echoes of the Dies Irae.

The overall result is surprising and grants a sensation of a balanced modernity, also because the author never drifts into atonality, always following a melodic discourse.

Also worth mentioning are the soloists of the Orchestra Sinfonica Adriatica, a group founded and directed by Paolo Pessina, who demonstrate great unity, cohesiveness, and a rich sound, characteristics that only great ensembles possess.

In addition, the abilities of the concertmaster must be applauded, who, in the Concertango, displays his virtuosic talents.

This is a CD of the highest level, which honors Italian classical music, which we hope will not remain an isolated instance, and will push Naxos on to further projects.

© by Marco del Vaglio (Agire, December 17, 2006)

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