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Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, November 2009

The Sinfonie del silenzio e della morte (“Symphonies of Silence and Death”) is more like three interconnected tone poems than it is a three-movement symphony. Inspired by Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, the first movement, “Danza tragica,” is a lot less macabre sounding than its description might suggest. The music has a distinctly Russian flavor to it, echoes of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bare Mountain being inescapable. But the specter of evil conjured by Malipiero is neither as vivid nor as visceral as that of Mussorgsky’s shrieking fiends. The second movement bears the heading that gives the work its name, while the third movement bears the heading, “Il molino della morte” (The Mill of Death). Whatever Malipiero’s morbid, ghoulish, and grisly intent may have been, his score too often belies it with interruptions by arching lyrical themes and infusions of lush orchestral writing. The work is simply too fetching to be anything other than a less-than-hair-raising ride on the lighter side of the dark side.

Malipiero’s Symphony No. 1 (“In four movements, like the four seasons”) was inspired by the Venetian poet Anton Maria Lamberti’s Le stagioni. The Symphony is programmatic only superficially and not representational in content. The music is abstract, and its formal structure laid out in four movements that proceed in a slow-fast-slow-fast order. The piece is fragrant with scents of the Orient, of the exotic, of early Debussy, and indeed of Respighi. In fact, if you like Respighi’s Roman trilogy, you are bound to find a close relative to it in Malipiero’s Symphony. It’s an exquisitely beautiful score, easily and immediately accessible, luxuriantly orchestrated, and filled with many memorable mood-evoking passages. I was so spellbound by the Lento, ma non troppo that I had to listen to it a second time before continuing on to the last movement. As the saying goes, “You can take the Romantic out of the 19th century, but…”.

Eschewing even the superficial program of the Symphony No. 1, the Symphony No. 2, “Elegiaca,” is also in four movements, but orders them in a fast-slow-fast-slow sequence. Three years in Malipiero’s life made no difference in his style. He was at this juncture still a dyed-in-the-wool Romantic, and this work dating from 1936 is as resplendent and gorgeous as the previous one. Again, it’s in the slow movements that Malipiero pours out his heart and soul in music that is never cloying but that nonetheless can make you weep. Considering the modernist trends of the time—Schoenberg’s Fourth String Quartet was written in the same year—it’s little wonder that history has marginalized Malipiero, along with many of the composers mentioned at the outset, as regressive and even reactionary. But unless one is an academic elitist of the worst kind, that should not be an argument against music written by any composer in any period that is beautiful and moving; and I can tell you that Malipiero’s music is both. I know that I, for one, having heard this disc, will be expanding my heretofore very limited Malipiero collection.

There do not appear to be any competing recordings of these works currently listed, so it’s providential that Antonio de Almeida and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra give exceptionally fine performances. I did not realize, however, until reading the fine print, that this Naxos disc is actually a re-release of a 1993 recording that originally appeared on the Marco Polo label. So make sure you don’t already have it before you run out and buy this one. If you don’t, this is a must-have purchase.

Gary Lemco
Audiophile Audition, July 2009

The expansive, so-called “Symphonies of Silences and Death” (1910) appears to mis-label a three-part tone-poem that might be a distant cousin of Debussy’s La Mer. Impressionistic in the manner of Respighi, the music often recalls aspects of Rimsky-Korsakov’s expressive syntax, especially as found in Le Coq d’Or. Written as musical response to Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death,” Malipiero’s sinfonia manages some antique sounds that signify the presence of the Grim Reaper in the midst of mortal, Renaissance festivities.  Lamentation mingles with death-rattles, sighs, whimpers, and somber gaieties. Malipiero writes melodically, to be sure, but the effects are pastiches of pleasant chords and colors—strings, harp, and airy woodwinds—a step away from innocuous Delius. The last movement, “The Mill of Death,” folkishly represents its morbid subject with xylophone, tympani, blazing horns, percussion, and devices to equate Death (simultaneous C Major and E-flat Minor chords) with an infernal machine. A detractor would credit the score as “effective” for a silent film. Harp and xylophone (a nod to Saint-Saens) bestow upon Death a tender aspect; the last minute of music flutters, a snare drum softly underneath, the final cords as enigmatic as those which close Debussy’s Jeux.

The Symphony No. 1 (1933) has the subtitle “In Four Tempos, like The Four Seasons.” Malipiero had intended to orchestrate some poems by Venetian poet Anton Maria Lamberti, his “The Seasons.”  The first movement (Quasi andante) of the “typical cycle” progression sounds almost a parody of bucolic sentiments, an astringent, capricious temper infused into the leas and strolling cows and shepherds.  The second, “summer” movement proves more chromatic, violently dissonant, a driving, “Roman” rhythm moving the music forward. A kind of oriental martial pageantry soon suffuses the piece—perhaps an allusion to the architecture of St Marks Cathedral?  Autumn (Lento) clearly evokes aspects of Debussy’s ethos, especially that radiant melancholy found in his Martyrdom of St Sebastian. An antique atmosphere insinuates itself, and we might be stepping softly by moonlight with Romeo in old Verona, perhaps passing near the Capulets’ tomb. Winter (Allegro, quasi allegretto) tries to smile amidst the tears: a jaunty dance, a burlesca, it gathers texture and force to achieve ceremonially and contrapuntally-inflated pomp that might have accompanied a newsreel of Il Duce.

Symphony No. 2 (1936) bears the subtitle “Elegiaca.” It resembles a classical symphony in its four-movement construction, and the dominant mood remains quietly meditative. The first restless movement moves in relatively predictable chromatics, the sense of sonata-form apparent enough, the melodic shape airy and contrapuntally abstract. The movement ends with a hymn, at least a resolute peroration of some power.  The Lento non troppo lies at the heart of the work: perhaps former dreams of vainglory have passed on. What consolation endures comes from Nature, it seems; and in pastoral picture-evocation, Malipiero might be an under-rated master. Composed of two themes, the music progresses to a point where the independent lines merge as treble and bass. Marked “Mosso,” the short Scherzo enjoys strings, flute, and horn flourishes in quirky, rhythmic figurations, with harp glissandi and active tympani. The last movement, Lento, makes it plain that Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” Symphony or perhaps Mahler provides a formal model for this expressive work. The elegiac moments more than once could be thought to sound like Barber or Randall Thompson. But the formal, “Roman” capacity for imperial gloom and shadowy melancholy asserts itself, even in the form of a fugue. A true song finally emerges, a lovely lament that ought to be programmed more often.

Robert R. Reilly, May 2009

…magic strikes again in the Naxos release of Vol. 2 of his complete Symphonies, offering Nos. 1 and 2 and the Sinfonie del silenzio e della morte. The second movement of the Sinfonie will place you in a languid Arcadian reverie in which Malipiero seems to suspend time. The First Symphony, a “four seasons” piece, begins in the same vein. Symphony No. 2 is beautifully valedictory. This is musical beguilement and enchantment at the genius level. Only Naxos has this magic potion.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2009

The seventeen symphonies of the 20th century composer, Gian Francesco Malipiero, are sadly neglected, and this reissue from the Marco Polo label is much welcomed. It was at the première of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps in 1913, that the thirty-year-old composer was encouraged to embark on a series of symphonic scores, though it was yet a further twenty years before he felt confident to describe a work as his first symphony. At the time Italy saw him as a modernist, but in reality he was a tonal composer following in the footsteps of Respighi’s tone poems. To that date he had given his works a descriptive title, as we hear in the Sinfonie del silenzio e della morte, a work written in the most exotic late-romantic mode, the grim title adapted from a quotation by Edgar Allan Poe. It was completed in 1910, and was, from a purist’s standpoint, a symphonic poem. Even with his numbered symphonies he could not resist adding a descriptive title, in this case the First carried “in quattro tempi, come le quattro stagioni (in four movements, like the four seasons). We begin in Spring and progress through the year, the meditative Autumn, drawing the finest music, though the tinkling icy Winter scene is attractive. It was, he said, the first and last symphony, but three years later in 1936, he wrote the Second, this time with the word ‘elegiaca’ in its title. Ending very quietly and in a sense of meditation, it has to that point been far from elegiac, and maybe it lacks that immediately memorable thematic stimulus that would have found it a place in the concert repertoire. The Moscow orchestra are strangers to the music, though they play with enthusiasm and skill under the baton of Antonio de Almeida. At its new low Naxos price, you should feel free to explore. Sound is routine studio quality from the 1990s.

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