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Phillip Scott
Fanfare, September 2009

The Rome SO gives a vigorous performance of the Symphony and sensitive renditions of the shorter works under La Vecchia. They are brightly recorded in the house style. © 2009 Fanfare Read complete review

William Trotter
American Record Guide, July 2009

Giuseppe Martucci may not have been the most famous of the small band of late 19th-century Italian composers who believed that the national obsession with opera had exerted a deleterious effect on Italian musical culture as a whole, and who sought to redress that imbalance. That was Respighi. But Martucci was the most influential.

An excellent all-round musician and a dedicated teacher (starting in 1902, he was Director of Milan’s Licio Musicale), Martucci attained fame and respect first as a touring concert pianist of the first rank. Starting at the turn of the century he became both famous and controversial in his native country for his passionate, well-informed championship of such composers as Brahms, Wagner, and Berlioz, who had been almost completely ignored in Italy up to that time. In 1888, Martucci prepared and conducted the first Italian performance of Tristan and Isolde and was rehearsing the Neapolitan premiere of Gotterdammerung when he died in June, 1909. His goals as an educator were only partly fulfilled and his own music largely ignored beyond Italy’s borders.

That his two symphonies and two piano concertos cling to the margins of the active repertory is no doubt owing to the life-long advocacy of Arturo Toscanini. There haven’t been many concert performances in America since Toscanini retired, but there have been sporadic recordings in the CD era. While I do not share Toscanini’s perhaps high opinion of Martucci’s music, I do find him a fascinating and occasionally very compelling composer; and I welcome this first installment of a new four-disc cycle of his complete orchestral works produced by Naxos. These CDs will give Martucci’s music its widest exposure yet and allow a new generation to make up its own mind about him.

The First Symphony is attractive, to some extent anyway, because experienced listeners will have fun spotting the many pages where the (acknowledged) influence of Schumann and Brahms all-but-shouts at them. Yet Martucci was his own man, and although his large scale works are uneven, they do contain many fine examples of a strong lyric impulse, sturdy craftsmanship, and a delightful sense of fancy. The brief, skittish, scherzo-allegretto in this symphony is a sly and refreshing contrast to the solemn (and very Schumannesque) songfulness of the warm andante that precedes it.

Martucci really comes into his own, however, in the soaring, intensely dramatic finale (surely Respighi was influenced by this music!), a hefty 15-minute allegro-resoluto that builds skillfully to a powerful, surging climax. In this movement you can glimpse where Martucci might have gone as a composer, had he lived beyond middle age.

The four short pieces that fill out the program are orchestral transcriptions of piano works that the composer played on his many recital tours. None quite attains the eloquence of the symphony’s best pages, but none is without its charms, either. I especially enjoyed the Andante No. 2, played here in an arrangement that turns it into a fairly effective miniature cello concerto.

Maestro La Vecchia secures consistently fine playing from the Rome Symphony, whose standards are now light-years ahead of the earnest but often second-rate work one heard from this ensemble up through the 70s. His interpretations are solid and vital. Granted, all later Martucci conductors are up against Toscanini’s sui generis broadcast performances, which are usually available on some Jolly Roger label or another, and if you become fond of Martucci’s music, you should seek them out; their fierce advocacy has never been surpassed. But since the most recent surviving air-check dates from 1941, you’ll have to experience them by means of some dry, rough, congested sonics.

Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International, June 2009

In a neatly attractive collection, Giuseppe Martucci’s orchestral music is now represented by four CDs from Naxos, these of the two symphonies, and another two which cover the two piano concertos—a nice way to mark yet another composer’s 2009 centenary, although these discs are in for the long haul and not promoted as such. All of these discs are filled with attractive bonuses, and the extra pieces on the two disc reviewed here are almost all arrangements of piano pieces…Martucci spent six years writing his Symphony No. 1, and the work’s scale and seriousness of ambition is clear from the outset. The first movement is dominated by a forceful and energetic opening theme which contrasts widely with the more contemplative nature of the second theme—and the movement ends in an atmosphere of tranquillity. Thus introduced, the second movement opens with a sweetly nostalgic cello solo over a restrained orchestral accompaniment. This movement’s slow development and subtly moulded forms is taken over by a more playful Allegretto third movement whose measured pace is given a lighter orchestration in the opening. This develops into material of a stronger, more heroic character, but the general mood is one of geniality. The final movement opens with a flash of thunder and some moody development, before the truly blazing main theme breaks through—resolute and heroic, melody rising triumphantly against a descending bass.

The shorter works on this first disc are all arrangements, but work extremely well as orchestral pieces. The Giga is a light bonbon, with playful strings and punctuating winds and brass. The Canzonetta is more reflective, opening with low Tchaikovskian clarinets for the opening theme, tripping on and alternating with a contrasting second theme in the strings.

The Andante Op.69 no.2 is arranged from one of Martucci’s later chamber pieces for cello and piano, and the relation between soloist and orchestra provides a welcome contrast from purely orchestral textures…This is an elegiac piece however, and builds a fine arching structure every bit as powerful as something by Bruch or Elgar…The most significant of these extra works is the gorgeous Notturno Op. 70 No. 1, whose ‘sustained mood of rapt introspection’ has something of the Sigfried Idyll about it, and is also somewhat reminiscent of Mahler’s Adagietto from the 5th Symphony…These new recordings [Symphony No 2 is available on 8.570930] from Naxos are both of a very high standard in any context, and made even more attractive by being at budget price…the overriding impression is that of stylish professionalism in the entirety of the orchestral sound, as well as in numerous lovely orchestral solos throughout both discs…The acoustic of the Auditorium Conciliazione is big and resonant, but there is no loss of detail in the recording, and the richly relaxed spread of instruments is on to which you can listen for a long time with no sense of fatigue. Good booklet note from Richard Whitehouse top off another set of remarkably fine recordings from the Naxos stable, so, snap up these at two for the price of probably-less-than-one and rejuvenate your romantic orchestral section with resounding resonances.

Ian Lace
MusicWeb International, May 2009

Admirers of Respighi’s music may well be interested in music from other less well known Italian non-operatic composers…Martucci, the foremost Italian orchestral composer of the late 19th century was also an accomplished pianist and conductor. His repertoire was wide extending from Bach through to Debussy and Stanford. He championed Wagner, Berlioz, Schumann and Brahms, the latter two composers having a strong influence on Martucci’s own music, and notably this Symphony with something of Bruckner and Elgar in the heroic final Mosso-Allegro risoluto. He worked six years on this Symphony which was premiered in 1895…La Vecchia scores in the lighter fill-ups. The Giga trips along merrily while the wistful, beguiling Canzonetta looks back to the elegance of the 18th century. The twelve-minute or so Andante No. 2 for Cello and Orchestra meanders but has autumnal warmth—a little like the Elgar Cello Concerto in places—with some felicitous writing for woodwinds and harp. The First Notturno is more pleasing and again reminds one of Elgar in wistful vein.

Jed Distler, April 2009

On the plus side, Francesco La Vecchia elicits more incisive string playing and more penetrating woodwind articulation in the neo-Wagnerian First symphony than Bakels [conducting the Malaysian Philharmonic on BIS], aided by Naxos’ rich, dazzlingly detailed engineering. On the minus side, the Rome musicians do not quite match their Malaysian colleagues’ impeccable intonation and seamless ensemble blend. However, the shorter works delight without qualification.

The Andante Op. 69 No. 2 clocks in nearly three minutes faster than the weightier Francesco D’Avalos/Philharmonia Orchestra recording [on Brilliant Classics reissue of ASV’s recordings], and benefits from cellist Andrea Noferini’s warm tone and fluid phrasing. By contrast, La Vecchia takes two minutes more than D’Avalos over the Op. 70 No. 1 Notturno, yet generates plenty of sustaining power and chamber-like textural diversity. A fine start to a promising cycle, warmly recommended.

James Leonard, April 2009

To assert Francesco La Vecchia and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma’s 2009 digital recording of Giuseppe Martucci’s warmly romantic Symphony No. 1 is the finest ever made is not to over praise it. After all, there have heretofore been only two other digital recordings of the bighearted romantic work: an unidiomatic 2000 Kees Bakels account with the Malaysian Philharmonic and an ardent 1997 Francesco d’Avalos performance with London’s Philharmonia. Yet La Vecchia and the Rome orchestra go deeper into the score than d’Avalos, and find more in it of Martucci and less of Brahms, the Italian composer’s obvious model. Plus, La Vecchia has the inestimable advantage of having an orchestra that understands Martucci’s harmonic and melodic language and is wholeheartedly dedicated to turning in the best possible playing for their countryman. The combination is unbeatable and this may be the performance that finally makes Martucci’s reputation. The four other pieces here are less imposing but no less lovely, especially the achingly beautiful Nocturne. In short, anyone interested in fin de siècle European symphonies should by all means try this disc.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2009

This year marks the centenary of Giuseppe Martucci’s death, the most influential  musician working in Italy during the second-half of the 19th century. He had been touring as a successful concert pianist for a number of years when he formed the Orchestra Napolitana at the age of twenty-five, within three years honing it to a level that made it the finest in Italy. He was to spend most of his life in Naples, and dying there at the age of fifty-three. Under his baton Italy became aware of a whole swath of European music, particularly that from the German and French romantics, including Italian premieres of Wagner’s operas. As a composer his studies with Paolo Serrao passed on the Austro-German style that was to influence almost everything he was to write. Mostly including the piano, his output contained two extensive symphonies, the First being  completed in 1895 in the style of Brahms, with Mendelssohn appearing in the mercurial third movement. Well constructed in four movements, it took six years to complete, his orchestration owing everything to Germanic traditions. He also wrote a limited number of chamber works and a more considerable opus of piano music, some of these he orchestrated, mainly to use as encores in orchestral concerts. They are effective, the gentle and exceedingly beautiful Notturno - taken from a piano piece of 1891—being the jewel of the disc. I am not going to inflate expectations by claiming a genius, but I urge you to hear this disc played with affection by the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma under the direction of Francesco La Vecchia. They produce that warm and mellow sound on which this music thrives.

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