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Frank Behrens
Brattleboro Reformer, December 2010

Because I am partial to the sound of the clarinet, I listened to a Naxos CD titled “Italian Clarinet Suites” and found it simply gorgeous! Clarinetist Sergio Bosi and pianist Riccardo Bartoli combine their skills in performing three suites by Alessandro Longo (1864–1945), Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924), Antonio Scontrino (1850–1922), and Giuseppe Frugatta (1860–1933).

At first, I feared that some of the more recent pieces would be ear-tormenting experiments in the atonal school; but each proves to be very melodic and quite enjoyable. The program notes will supply some minimal information about the composers and pieces. The music will speak for itself.

Scott Locke
The Clarinet, December 2010

Both Sergio Bosi and Riccardo Bartoli are on the teaching faculty of the G. Rossini Conservatory in Pesaro, Italy. Bosi is additionally principal clarinetist in the Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana. In 2006 he gave a recital at the ClarinetFest® in Atlanta, and again this past summer was a featured soloist with orchestra in Austin. He has long been a promoter of Italian clarinet music on the international scene. This new recording of clarinet suites is his most recent attempt to bring this music to the public’s attention.

The composers represented on the disc are essentially of the same generation, each with birth dates no more than a decade apart. Since Italian instrumental music had for so long been overshadowed by opera, they represent a group of composers who created a resurgence of instrumental music toward the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Among their output are these fine clarinet suites which prove worthy of revival.

The disc opens with Alessandro Longo’s (1864–1945) Suite. This work is the most conservative formally and stylistically of the four works presented here. The opening “Con moto” movement is buoyant. It possesses a gracious, lyrical charm with long, arched phrases. The “Intermezzo“ is in ternary form, and is more sober in nature. The final “Allegro con spirito” presents sparkling themes that seamlessly shift from major to minor. It concludes with a charming coda.

Bosi’s phrasing throughout this, and the other works on the disc, is tasteful and elegant. His well-controlled tone is flexible and resonant, and the works are performed with a wide dynamic palette. The technical playing, when called for, is agile and effortless. Bartoli’s pianism is a perfect foil for Bossi, and is never overpowering. Together they create a symbiotic interpretation of each of the suites.

Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924) is a name more likely to be known to clarinetists. Busoni’s father was a clarinetist for whom he composed a number of works, including the Suite presented on this disc. True to its title, the opening “Improvisata” wanders restlessly throughout and concludes with a short cadenza in the altissimo register. The “Barcola” is a brief, lilting gondolier song, followed by the plaintive and aria-like “Elegia” movement. The longest movement of the suite is the “Tema variato.” Here, a neo-Baroque theme in the minor mode is given several contrasting treatments. A short, dramatic coda concludes the movement. The concluding “Serenata” is a graceful movement in 6/8, with just a few passionate moments simmering under the surface.

Antonio Scontrino (1850–1922) was a bassist who studied classical and modern music for a time in Music. His very distinctive Sei Bozzetti (Six Sketches) was composed in 1909 and represents many shifting moods throughout. The work opens with two musical memoirs: “Adelaide” is suffused with gentle, longing themes, while “Didone,” in three parts, is more earnest, featuring a lyrical and passionate middle section. The “Valzer” tips its hat to Brahms, while the “Gonoliera” is striking, featuring rapid, cadenza-like passages performed with fluid technique by Bosi. The “Speranza” movement, again in ternary form, is elegiac in character. The final “Letizia” is the most technically dazzling, which Bosi executes with great flair. It is peppered occasionally with more lyrical themes and features showy coda.

The final suite on the disc is by Giuseppe Frugatta (1860–1933). Like the previous two suites, his Op. 44 is also in six short movements. The opening “Préambule” is in 6/8 and alternates lyrical and technical passages. The “Romance” is both sentimental and noble. The light-hearted “Caprice” is perhaps not as whimsical as its title would suggest, having thematic material that returns often. The deftly conceived “Scherzino” has a witty, unexpected codetta. The “Menuet” is the least memorable movement of the suite, but interest is again aroused by th fiery “Tarantelle,” a fitting conclusion to the set.

These works feature many stylistic similarities including frequent modal shifts, as well as shifts between technical and lyrical phrases within single movements. As character pieces, there is little harmonic migration or the development of thematic material. While the liner notes suggest that these composers “brokered a compromise between tradition and modernity,” the works are fairly conservative from a compositional standpoint. They nevertheless possess the Italian predisposition for fine melodic writing and interesting, if not bold, late Romantic harmonies. For these reasons, and also due to the superlative caliber of performance, this disc is highly recommended.

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, April 2010

…there is much that makes for thoroughly enjoyable listening and nothing that is less than interesting. To varying degrees all the works belong broadly in the idiom of late Romanticism, growing out of the German tradition but leavened with distinctively Italian elements and—particularly in the case of Scontrino—some French influences. There are lots of attractive melodies, some sophisticated harmonies and some finely expressive music.

All three of those less familiar names belong to composers who played a significant role in the musical life of their day. Alessandro Longo was one of the earliest modern scholars of Scarlatti; he established a Domenico Scarlatti Society in Naples early in the 1890s, and subsequently published 11 volumes containing 544 of Scarlatti’s sonatas (1906–10) and a monograph on the composer (1913). His ‘L’ numbers were for a long while the standard system for referencing Scarlatti’s sonatas. Longo taught piano at the Conservatory in Naples and was himself very active as a performer. His suite for clarinet and piano was one of a series for piano and wind instruments; it is in three movements, the second of which, an intermezzo, contains some pellucid melodies and some adroit piano writing; in the third movement (Allegro con spirito) is an attractive dialogue, the interplay of clarinet and piano is full of interesting touches and some intriguing changes of tempo. The writing everywhere is highly competent and the results, if relatively lightweight, make for engaging listening.

Born in Sicily, after studying at the Palermo Conservatory Antonio Scontrino worked extensively as virtuoso player of the double-bass. From 1871–1873 he studied in Munich. He later worked in Milan as a teacher, before being appointed Professor of counterpoint and composition back at the Palermo Conservatory in 1891 and a year later was also appointed Professor at the Istituto Musicale in Florence. His Sei Bozzetti (Six Sketches) were written when the composer was approaching his sixtieth birthday and they breathe experience and maturity. Full of complex rhythmic and harmonic manoeuvres, they deserve to be better known than they are. The first, Adelaide, contains some lush writing for the clarinet, beautifully played by Sergio Bosi; Didone, the second, is in the long line of musical responses to Dido’s abandonment and suicide, though the music is perhaps more sad than suicidal—at any rate until its close. Valser is thoroughly Germanic, though perhaps it isn’t only knowledge of the composer’s nationality that makes one hear some rather Italianate quasi-operatic inflections in places; the fourth piece, Gondoliera begins languorously, and with some audible debts to French impressionism, but builds to a vigorous conclusion. The fifth, Speranza, packs a good deal of emotional power and the suite closes with Letizia (Joy), which lives up to its title, full of vivacity and energy…and demanding considerable skill of its performers.

Giuseppe Frugatta has perhaps been even more comprehensively forgotten than Longo and Scontrino. He taught piano at the Milan Conservatory from 1891–1930 while also active as a soloist and a composer. More than one of his compositions won a significant international prize for him; he wrote some fine and once very popular operatic transcriptions for piano; but he has no entry in the current Grove nor, indeed, in Marc Vignal’s Dizionario della Musica Classica Italiana (2002). The six movements of his suite are elegant and expressive, full of music which, while very much of its time, should also appeal to most modern listeners. The thoughtful, slightly troubled Romance, the second movement of the suite, and the witty Scherzino (the fourth) are both of them rewarding and the closing Tarantelle is colourfully inventive.

Though it may have been written when its composer was not yet into his teens, Busoni’s six-movement suite is a work with some real emotional depth. Its opening Improvvisata is thoughtful and questioning, the following Barcarola has a melancholy sweetness and some dignified melodic lines; at the heart of the suite is Elegia, a lyrical movement that is more than merely mournful, with its sense both of letting go and of fond memory; Danza campestre (Rural dance) is a pretty, sprightly affair; Tema variato is a miniature of some compositional subtlety—especially considering the age of the composer—and the whole closes with a Serenata which has moments of astringency amidst its general (uncloying) sweetness. This was a 12 year old of real promise and already possessed of considerable maturity!

Throughout, the playing of Sergio Bosi is exemplary, always sympathetic to the writing, unfazed by any of the technical demands and capable of real wit and panache; his accompanist, Riccardo Bartoli is excellent…

Uncle Dave Lewis, March 2010

In the 19th century, most of the work in developing repertoire for the clarinet was being done by Italian musicians. Naxos' Italian Clarinet Suites, featuring clarinetist Sergio Bosi and pianist Riccardo Bartoli, visits four suites of Italian provenance created between 1878 and 1910. Of course, solo clarinet literature falls mostly into the realm of interest of clarinet players, and the Alessandro Longo Suite, Op. 62 (1910), is reasonably well known to them; it is the only composition of Domenico Scarlatti's first editor to gain some traction in the repertoire. While Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni is easily the most famous composer on this disc, his Suite (1878) is an early work - probably written for his father, a virtuoso clarinetist - and not so. The Sei Bozzetti (1909) of Antonio Scontrino and the Suite, Op. 44 (1901), of Giuseppe Frugatta are both by mega-obscure Italian composers and aren't even known to clarinetists.

So one is immediately moved to consider, "as this is mostly new to us, is this repertoire worthwhile?" The Longo suite certainly is, which is what has kept it in the clarinet repertoire so long, and the Busoni work has that amazing property of immediacy and individuality that is apparent even in the works he created when he was still a child. The Frugatta suite, while redolent of Italian opera, has some quirky harmonic touches that help keep it interesting, whereas Scontrino's Bozzetti really do not transcend their time and wear the least well of the four works on the program. Naxos' recording is close and unvarnished.

Frank Behrens
ArtsATL, February 2010

Because I am partial to the sound of the clarinet, I listened to a Naxos CD titled “Italian Clarinet Suites” and found it simply gorgeous! Clarinetist Sergio Bosi and pianist Riccardo Bartoli combine their skills in performing three suites by Alessandro Longo (1864–1945), Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924), Antonio Scontrino (1850–1922), and Giuseppe Frugatta (1860–1933).

At first, I feared that some of the more recent pieces would be ear-tormenting experiments in the atonal school; but each proves to be very melodic and quite enjoyable. The program notes will supply some minimal information about the composers and pieces. The music will speak for itself.

Complete Haydn Symphonies are Now in Boxed Set

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2010

With the exception of Busoni, the Italian composers here represented are little known today, though all were important in the country’s academic life and lived well into the 20th century. Their music had its roots in the era of Schumann and Mendelssohn and would be readily identified as having come from the Germanic school of composition. The name of Alessandro Longo is the one you may recognise, but for a different reason, as it appears in the ‘Longo’ prefix to the numbering of his catalogue of Scarlatti’s music. His Clarinet Suite of 1910 is in three movements, the central Intermezzo being slow and of a creamy quality, and he asks for the soloist’s dexterity in the finale. You would not even recognise this Busoni as being the famous composer, for he was just twelve when he wrote the six short and simple movements of his Suite. Antonio Scontrino is very  different matter, for by this time he was largely responsible for establishing Italian instrumental education of that era. Trained in Germany and owing much to the influence of Brahms, his Sei Bozzetti (Six Sketches) is certainly the most adventurous and pleasing music on the disc, the final Letizia being a whirlwind of notes. Born ten years later in 1860, Giuseppe Frugatta taught at the Milan Conservatoire while building a list of compositions that included the pleasant six-movement Clarinet Suite published in 1901. Not the most taxing music, but it is played with flair by the leading clarinet of the Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana, Sergio Bosi. He produces an attractive tone that thankfully avoids those squeaky top notes now in vogue. His teaching colleague at the Rossini Conservatory in Pesaro, Riccardo Bartoli, is a very responsive pianist.

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