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Stephen Estep
American Record Guide, January 2010

…this piece is…superbly played…

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, October 2009

…a CD of rare but instantly appealing music convincingly performed.

Ildebrando Pizzetti is one of a group of Italian composers—the others included Respighi, Malipiero and Casella—who sought to modernise Italian opera as well as establishing a body of non-operatic Italian music. All of the music presented here is intensely dramatic—not surprising in a composer who produced more than a dozen operas as well as incidental and film music. Even the piano concerto here Canti della stagione alta is intensely pictorial. The disc opens with the prelude to Pizzetti’s first Opera Fedra. This opens with a strangely hypnotic sinuous melody (monody really) from the violas that immediately flags up one of Pizzetti’s great interests—Gregorian Chant yet this seamlessly moves into an impassioned lyrical outburst for the full orchestra within half a minute—it is powerfully dramatic and makes one want to hear more of the full opera. If you think that Puccini had yet to write Il Trittico or Turandot at the time Fedra was first performed you can hear what a new path Pizzetti was trying to forge. It is still very romantic and lyrical but quite different from the music of his more illustrious contemporary.

The major work presented here is the piano concerto of 1930 Canti della stagione alta (Songs of the High Season). Keith Anderson’s erudite—as usual—notes capture the sound world of this piece well. The music is immediately ‘open-air’, modal in flavour and with a rhapsodic feel—the long singing lines of the strings show a composer of a naturally lyrical bent. The way the woodwinds ornament and muse over their opening material is very beautiful. It doesn’t grab your attention by the use of great arching melodies instead it creates its effects by use of texture and atmosphere—Pizzetti handles the orchestra and soloist with great confidence. Certainly if you like your piano concertos big-boned, tonal and of a romantic cut this is for you. Running at a shade under thirty minutes this is not a huge work but it feels bigger than that. Not to imply that it outstays its welcome—far from it. As the first movement develops it moves away from the pastoral to something altogether more dramatic with double octave passages in the piano tossed off with conspicuous ease. There is a heraldic quality to some of Pizzetti’s brass writing that I really enjoy. Yes it could be argued there is a cinematic element to it but it works for me! The slow second movement is altogether simpler although once again the central climax is heavily brass led but I do like the way this immediately gives way to a quietly modal string passage with some distant brass figures—sounding deliberately archaic—decorating the music. Not having seen a score it is hard to know exactly how Pizzetti achieves the effect but the metre of the work is very flexible with a strong sense of regular predictable bar-lines removed. Instead we can feel the underlying basic pulse—once again this seems to be a stylistic nod towards the melodic fluidity of plainsong. The finale is played attacca leaping straight from the final notes of the second movement. This is a true rondo which—again I agree with Keith Anderson here—has echoes of an Italianate Rachmaninov although the quirky string led fugal passage and a final exciting brass peroration are uniquely Pizzetti’s own. This proved to be a very pleasurable discovery indeed. The disc is completed by music Pizzetti wrote for a silent movie in 1914—Cabiria. What an extraordinary event this must have been—the bulk of the music for this two and a half hour epic was assembled—as was so often the case with early silent film scores—from standard orchestral repertoire. However for a key sequence—involving the sacrifice of 100 children to the God of Carthage, Moloch!—Pizzetti was commissioned to provide this ten minute sequence involving large orchestra, baritone soloist and chorus. That it is pictorial is clear from the very first bars and again benefits from a performance of great flair. To be honest it is the piece on this disc I would least often return but it is not trying to be anything but colourful and illustrative—there is none of the subtlety or emotional weight that marks out the other pieces here. Conversely I cannot think of another example of so early a dedicated film score of this originality and power. Well worth a listen in that historical context alone. Quite how it sat next to excerpts of Mozart, Mendelssohn and Gluck I do not have a clue!

…The Robert Schumann Philharmonie play this unfamiliar repertoire with great sensitivity and technical assurance. Only a couple of brief moments of string edginess in the second movement shows that the concerto was taken from live performances but in fact the balance and sound stage is excellent and the audience is totally inaudible. The rapport between the husband and wife team of Oleg and Susanna Stefani Caetani is excellent and the liner notes make clear that the concerto is part of her active repertoire. This clearly benefits the piece with a thoroughly convincing performance in every respect. Likewise the two filler pieces which are studio recordings from the same period—powerfully performed and well recorded… All in all a disc of far greater musical and technical quality than I was expecting. It makes me want to hear the recently released Concerto dell’estate (Naxos 8.572013) as well as the complete Fedra.

Indulgently romantic piano concerto performed with bravura assurance.

Uncle Dave Lewis, September 2009

Canti dell stagione alta (Songs of the High Season) is a piano concerto dating from 1930; however, if it weren’t for its thick scoring and slightly tart harmonic language, one could easily situate it within the realm of Rachmaninov, although it has a melodic profile that is distinctly Italian. The Preludio from the three-act musical tragedy Fedra (composed in 1909, but not performed until 1915) is more challenging and colorfully heart wrenching than the concerto, being based on a libretto by Gabriele d’Annunzio, the major literary figure in Italy at the time. D’Annunzio was also involved in the making of Giovanni Pastrone’s epic film Cabiria (1914), and perhaps this was what connected Pizzetti to the project. The Sinfonia del fuoco he composed for a particularly dramatic scene in the film—the sacrifice of 100 pure children to the god Moloch—is one of Pizzetti’s greatest achievements, perhaps the earliest film score that sounds a little like what dramatic film music would eventually become many years later. This important work rounds off the program.

Pianist Susanna Stefani Caetani puts her heart and soul into the Canti dell stagione alta…Baritone Boris Statsenko…does a superb job of singing the role of The Priest [in Cabiria], and overall anyone with an interest in modern Italian music, a taste for romantic piano concertos, or concerned with the early history of music for film would not want to be without this.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2009

A forgotten voice that played a prominent role in Italian symphonic music during the early 20th century, most of which has inexplicably descended into obscurity. That makes us grateful for another Naxos disc containing works by Ildebrando Pizzetti. Born in 1880, he became part of the Italian faction who decried the way music was progressing, and lodged himself as a counter-reactionary. his style wedded to melody as a throwback to the end of the 19th century. Listening to the Prelude of his opera, Fedra, makes you thirst for the whole score.It tells of the story of Fedra who falls in love with her stepson, but he rejects her, Fedra defiantly telling her husband of her passion for his son as she kills herself. Quiet and sensual, it has similarities with the music of Franz Schreker. The 1930 Canti della stagione alta is, in reality, a three-movement piano concerto full of lyric grace, but just a little short of dramatic moments until we reach the big and fulsome ending to the finale. The disc is completed by the Sinfonica del fuoco to the film Cabiria an epic historic Italian silent film released in 1914. The booklet details the background to the composition, but it appears it was performed just once on the opening night and then remained unperformed until a showing of the film in 1988. Scored for baritone, chorus and orchestra, it is an agitated and vivid work depicting a particular scene in the film. The recording was first released on the Marco Polo label, the first and last works coming from studio sessions and the concerto from a concert performance. The sound quality is nothing special, but the performances exude sincerity from the performers, the conductor’s wife, Susanna Stefani Caetani technically admirable in the concerto.

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