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Raymond Tuttle
Fanfare, November 2011

CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Shakespeare Overtures, Vol. 1 (West Australian Symphony, Penny) 8.572500
CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Shakespeare Overtures, Vol. 2 (West Australian Symphony, Penny) 8.572501

…I was delighted, as I heard these two discs… These overtures are as vivid as any Hollywood film score, and yet are so expertly put together that they are very successful as concert music. All thanks to Andrew Penny and his band from Down Under for bringing these engaging scores to our attention!

Paul A. Snook
Fanfare, November 2011

CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Shakespeare Overtures, Vol. 1 (West Australian Symphony, Penny) 8.572500
CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Shakespeare Overtures, Vol. 2 (West Australian Symphony, Penny) 8.572501

…two Naxos CDs of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s irresistible set of Shakespeare overtures (and, in a couple of cases, they are more akin to symphonic poems). These are among the most insightful and arresting openers in the catalog.

Stephen Estep
American Record Guide, March 2011

CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Shakespeare Overtures, Vol. 1 (West Australian Symphony, Penny) 8.572500
CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Shakespeare Overtures, Vol. 2 (West Australian Symphony, Penny) 8.572501

Interesting and replete with colorful orchestration, dramatic moments, and winsome melodies. This is one of the most enjoyable programs I’ve heard in a long time.

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

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, March 2011

Who knew that Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote overtures to 11 of Shakespeare’s plays? Not I and apparently not many others either, as every one of the works on this disc is claimed to be a world premiere recording. Naxos labels it Volume 1, so a companion CD containing the remaining five overtures—The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It, The Winter’s Tale, and King John—is expected (Naxos 8.572501).

If you know Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1968) by anything other than his famous D-Major Guitar Concerto, possibly his Violin Concerto titled “The Prophets,” and perhaps a few of his Jewish-themed choral works included in the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music project distributed on Naxos, you’re doing better than I am. Here is a composer with a catalog of more than 200 works—and that’s just the ones with opus numbers—who has simply never achieved recognition commensurate with the volume and quality of his output.

His “sin,” no more and no less than that of his close Italian contemporaries—Casella, Pizzetti, Malipiero, and Respighi—was to be born at a time and place where composing music in a late-Romantic and Impressionist style was regarded as regressive and reactionary by the modernists elsewhere on the Continent. Of this group, only Respighi seems to have enjoyed more or less permanent staying power. But Castelnuovo-Tedesco (hereinafter referred to as C-T for short) struggled against a second bias. Under Mussolini, Italy’s Jews may not have suffered the same fate as did their German, Austrian, and Polish co-religionists under Hitler, but fascist Italy was still not the friendliest place for a Jewish composer.

So in 1938, C-T left for the U.S., where he soon found work, as did so many other composers who fled Europe in those years, in the film industry. MGM Studios embraced him with open arms, and over the next several years he contributed to the scores of more than 200 films, all the while continuing to compose concert music. He became one of the most sought-after composition teachers in Los Angeles, taking on as students André Previn, Henry Mancini, and John Williams.

The first impression to strike one about these Shakespeare overtures is their made-for-the-movies character. This is not intended to be uncomplimentary; rather, it’s an observation of the vividly colored orchestration and the sweeping cinematic panoramas the music seems to encompass. Of the 11 overtures, six of them were written after C-T had arrived in the U.S. and taken up with the Hollywood crowd. Three of these—A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1940), Antony and Cleopatra (1947), and The Tragedy of Coriolanus (1947)—are on this volume. The earliest numbers—i.e., the five written while C-T was still in Italy—were The Taming of the Shrew (1930), followed by Twelfth Night (1933), The Merchant of Venice (1933), Julius Caesar (1934), and The Winter’s Tale (1935).

All of the overtures were conceived as stand-alone concert works, not as curtain-raisers to operas or incidental music to staged productions of the plays, and not as film music to accompany the rolling of the opening credits. As such, C-T’s overtures avoid storytelling; they do not attempt in a few minutes’ time to telescope the action of the plots. Instead, they take their cue from one or more specific events in the plays and develop a strictly musical narrative around them. This downplays programmatic associations and lends each overture a sense of structural integrity as a complete entity unto itself, worked out entirely in formal musical terms.

Over time, the overtures grew, not necessarily in length—though the 1947 Antony and Cleopatra expanded to nearly 18 minutes—but in ambition of orchestration. Where the 1930 Taming of the Shrew employs strings, double woodwinds, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, harp, piano, and percussion—hardly a modest-sized orchestra—the later overtures triple the winds and add English horn, contrabassoon, tuba, a second harp, tubular bells, glockenspiel, castanets, and a battery of various drums. Moreover, augmented string sections now find their parts frequently divided, and section leaders are highlighted in many striking solo passages. “The more grandiloquent moments,” observe Andrew Penny and Graham Wade in their booklet note, “anticipate the epic sweep of Miklós Rózsa’s film scores for Ben Hur or Quo Vadis of the 1950s.”

While certain parallels may exist, it should be emphasized that C-T’s overtures are serious symphonic works. They are not the stuff of movie soundtracks or, in arrangements, of summer-evening pops concerts. They are, however, not truly of their time—a statement that could apply to Respighi as well—in that they are big, bold, brightly painted musical billboards in a post-Romantic/Impressionist style that feature many of the same exoticisms and techniques one hears in scores like Respighi’s Roman Trilogy.

I take Naxos at its word that these are world premiere recordings; therefore, it is taken as an article of faith that other versions for comparison purposes do not exist. No matter, for the performances here by Andrew Penny and his West Australian Symphony Orchestra sound aces to me, and the recording has plenty of headroom for maximum impact in the music’s most massively scored passages. I can’t imagine why anyone would not be taken with these highly attractive scores. Definitely recommended.

Graham Strahle
The Weekend Australian Magazine, February 2011

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco is one of those composers who tend to be known more for their influence than their works. Guitar Concerto No 1 is probably his most frequently heard concert work, but arguably his greatest impact was to spawn a generation of younger film composers after his arrival in Hollywood from his native Italy in 1940. Nelson Riddle, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams were among his pupils.

Although producing some 200 film scores, he never stopped writing concert works, and among them is an intriguing set of 11 Shakespeare Overtures. They sound like cinematically inspired tone poems with only generalised reference to the narratives behind each play. The melodies are big and effervescent, the drama powerfully wrought, and the orchestration skilfully varied.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco the film composer is everywhere apparent; curiously this is even the case with overtures such as Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice that date from his pre-Hollywood years. Several receive their world premiere recordings in these 1994 performances by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under British conductor Andrew Penny. They include the poignantly tuneful A Winter’s Tale, the stridently heroic King John, and the dark-hewn As You Like It overtures.

Robert R. Reilly, November 2010

CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Shakespeare Overtures, Vol. 1 (West Australian Symphony, Penny) 8.572500
CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Shakespeare Overtures, Vol. 2 (West Australian Symphony, Penny) 8.572501

Castelnuovo-Tedesco fled Italy to escape Mussolini’s anti-Jewish Manifesto of Race in 1938 and landed in Hollywood, where he was very successful composing film scores. (He also taught composers John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and Andre Previn.) You can hear why in these very colorful, exuberant, immensely enjoyable works. Naxos delivers them in two volumes (8.572500 and 8.872501), vivaciously performed by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, under the very capable Andrew Penny.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, November 2010

CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Shakespeare Overtures, Vol. 1 (West Australian Symphony, Penny) 8.572500
CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Shakespeare Overtures, Vol. 2 (West Australian Symphony, Penny) 8.572501

Having given us a taste of symphonic music by Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880–1968) and Alfredo Cassella (1883–1947), Naxos now treats us to some by their student, Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1968). The eleven overtures on these two discs are based on Shakespeare’s (c. 1564–1616) plays, which were a lifelong love of his.

More like tone poems, all are world première recordings except Much Ado about Nothing. Five were written in Italy before the rise of Nazism forced his emigration to the United States in 1939. The remaining ones were completed in America, where he’d spend the rest of his life.

Three of the six on volume one were inspired by the Roman tragedies Julius Caesar (1934), Antony and Cleopatra (1947), and Coriolanus (1947). Brilliantly orchestrated and intensely dramatic, it’s easy to understand why from 1940 through 1956 Mario was regarded as one of Hollywood’s finest film score composers. In fact they anticipate Miklós Rósza’s music for such biblical epics as Quo Vadis (1951) and Ben Hur (1959), but still have that sense of structure and direction found in outstanding concert music.

The other three overtures, The Taming of the Shrew (1930), A Midsummer-Night’s Dream (1940) and Twelfth Night (1933), find the composer at his most lyrical. While they have the emotional appeal of Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897–1957) or even Max Steiner’s (1888–1971) best scores, there’s an old world charm and melodic finesse that make for much more than movie music. Romantics will love them, and as they put the second volume in their player, find themselves quoting Twelfth Night (1601–02), “If music be the food of love, play on!”

Disc two begins with As You Like It (1953), whose arresting opening is some of the most progressive music to be found in any of these overtures. It then turns quite pastoral with passages that have forest associations as well as hunting horn calls reminiscent of Wagner’s (1813–1883) Siegfried.

A sense of drama returns in the next three selections. These are The Merchant of Venice (1933), Much Ado About Nothing (1953), and The Life and Death of King John (1941), which are dedicated respectively to three great conductors, Arturo Toscanini (1867–1957), Robert Whitney (1904–1986), and Sir John Barbirolli (1899–1970).

Italian folk tunes similar to Luigi Denza’s (1846–1922) melody for the ever popular Neapolitan song “Funiculì, Funiculà” (1880) give Merchant a Latin flavor. Much Ado has a skittishly lyrical opening and closing surrounding a funeral march worthy of Sir William Walton (1902–1983). He and Sir Edward Elgar (1857–1934) come to mind in the optimistic big-boned King John.

The concluding selection, The Winter’s Tale (1935), is a candidate for the most structurally intricate of these overtures, with some arresting solos featuring various winds, as well as cello, harp, and percussion. Brilliantly scored, it’s the perfect closer for this series of beautifully crafted symphonic minidramas.

We have conductor Andrew Penny and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO) to thank for unearthing these gems. Enthusiasm rather than technical proficiency characterizes these performances. But as we’ve said before, with repertoire this rare we’re lucky to have what’s here!

The recordings were made over a nine-day period in the WASO’s Perth studios, and present a convincing soundstage in a compatible acoustic setting. While instrumental clarity and focus are definitely strong points, there’s some harshness in the high end that precludes these discs from getting an audiophile rating.

David Hurwitz, October 2010

Thank God Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream doesn't sound anything like Mendelssohn: it's just a luscious bit of late-Romantic impressionism, and it's as lovely as it is concise. The big piece here is Antony and Cleopatra, nearly 18 exotic minutes of it, sounding rather like, well, the 1963 film score to Antony and Cleopatra (which was by Alex North, actually). The fact is that Castelnuovo-Tedesco had quite a successful career in Hollywood after swapping the fascism of his native Italy for the escapism of sunny California. The Taming of the Shrew is charming and witty, Coriolanus suitably somber, and Twelfth Night, rather like the play itself, mysterious and curiously elusive. All of the music is well played by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Penny - there are a few moments of iffy ensemble, but nothing to worry about, and the sonics are suitably vivid. Very enjoyable indeed.

Cinemusical, October 2010

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco is known mostly as a composer of a popular guitar concerto. Most of his other music has gone mostly unknown. Originally from Italy, the composer fled after Mussolini’s anti-Jewish edicts were established in the late 1930s. He eventually ended up in Hollywood where he wrote a few film scores, but more importantly as a member of the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music he helped shape the compositional talents of Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, Andre Previn, and John Wiliams. The six overtures on this release (Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote five others available on a second volume) all date from 1930–1947. While it might be tempting to find Hollywood-like sounds in this music, what one does hear is the sort of brilliant Romantic orchestration that would be part of the Hollywood sound in the 1930s and 1940s. But that aside, listeners will be struck by the melodic inventiveness and orchestral colors that Castelnuovo-Tedesco draws from his orchestra in great vividness. Rather than being miniature musical overviews of the plays, the works draw from particular characters or aspects of the plot.

The first overture presented, Julius Caesar, Op. 78 (1934), includes opening fanfares that sound a lot like Rozsa (!) of all things. But soon moves into a more traditional Romantic orchestration. In The Taming of the Shrew, Op 61 (1930), the thematic ideas are tossed about brilliantly in the orchestra. The music has an English-tint to its style reminiscent of Walton at times, a hint of Viennese waltz music, and some fascinating flourishes of musical ideas that are Impressionistic. The piece flirts with a more Post-Romantic style at times as well. Antony and Cleopatra, Op. 134 (1947) has amazing lyric sweep and a sound that anticipates Rozsa’s 1950 scores (most unintentionally!). At seventeen minutes (the longest of the Shakespeare Overtures), it plays like a huge suite of moments from some long lost film adaptation. Chromaticism plays a more important role in this overture as does more quartal harmonies. The melodic ideas are quite engaging and a central love theme section is stunning. Perhaps appropriately, the overture for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 108 (1940) is more atmospheric in its style with a little nod to Mendelssohn at its beginning and focus on woodwinds and strings (dare one say it is the most Hollywood-sounding of all these pieces). The Tragedy of Coriolanus, Op. 135 (1947) is a work that focuses on development of a leitmotif that provides an interesting thread that changes in emotional intensity and variation as the piece progresses. The disc closes with 1933’s Twelfth Night, Op. 73. A gorgeous cor anglais solo opens and closes this work that features a harmonic sound that is more open amidst a magical atmospheric opening section that gives way to fast-paced and humorous central idea with an almost Spanish flair. It is another brilliant example of early-Twentieth century traditional music.

Fans of American cinema music of the 1930s and 1940s will find so much of that sound encapsulated in these works that it is striking. It is a reminder of the thread of composers working in Post-Romantic styles that differed from the Richard Strauss and Korngold Austrian sound. What makes so much of the orchestral music of the 1930s so fascinating is that there is this blend of Impressionism, chromaticism, and dissonance that has so many individual voices. This orchestral style tends to be ignored over jazz-influenced music, atonal and dodecaphonic developments, and the more open-chord music that was beginning to appear in America. Fortunately there is room on CD for the discovery of equally engaging music like these amazing works filled with such orchestral inventiveness. If you ran through a list of composers working specifically in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s you would find that these concert works have a sound that is quite parallel to them. As interest grows in the more tonal music of the early 20th Century, we can hope that some of these pieces will find their way to concert programs. For the most successful approach they should be performed as tone poems or symphonic poems as their conclusions trend toward a more rounded and less overture-like conclusion. Andrew Penny and the West Australian orchestra provide committed performances that allow individual soloists shine and are recorded to provide good sonic imaging of the orchestra., September 2010

The six [little-known Shakespeare Overtures by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco] that have just been released in fine performances by Andrew Penny and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra were written as early as 1930 (The Taming of the Shrew) and as late as 1947 (both Antony and Cleopatra and The Tragedy of Coriolanus). Rather than trying to portray all the events of a play, Castelnuovo-Tedesco employed large orchestral forces to highlight specific scenes or dialogue. Thus, he offers pervasive fanfares in Julius Caesar, lyricism in The Taming of the Shrew, and a single leitmotif in The Tragedy of Coriolanus—appropriate for a play whose hero is doomed by his single-minded nobility. Listeners will find little in common with Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture here. But they will inevitably think of Mendelssohn when listening to Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream overture, for the later composer pays tribute to the earlier with an opening featuring repeated woodwind-and-horn chords. All these works show skillful orchestration (sometimes including two harps plus celesta and piano), wit, fine pacing, interesting themes and a strong sense of involvement in the Shakespeare plays that inspired them. Indeed, it helps to know the plays to get these overtures’ full effects. These are certainly works that deserve to be better known.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2010

More sadly neglected music for Naxos to discover, Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Shakespeare inspired overtures being a well-crafted and characterful. Born in Italy in 1895, he became so prolific in his output that even today much of it remains unpublished. It has been said his inspiration waned before he reached the age of 30, though he continued writing at an ever increasing rate. That assessment has been equalled fuelled by his turning away from the concert hall so as to concentrate on a career as a Hollywood film composer, having arrived there in 1939 as a Jew escaping from the threat of Nazi persecution. That he had an ongoing fascination with Shakespeare is evident from the spread of dates of composition, La bisbetica domata (The Taming of the Shrew) being completed in 1930, and through to 1953 for As You Like It. The present disc shows that he is most successful when picturing the comic or happily romantic plays. Taming of the Shrew is a tuneful little gem, cheeky, and abounding in moments of engaging lyricism. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is very much in the Mendelssohn mould of imagery, though by the time we reach Antony and Cleopatra and The Tragedy of Coriolanus we find Hollywood making a major influence on his life, and rather than concert pieces you can imagine the big wide silver screen. Even in that context they are worthy of attention for he was an excellent orchestrator. The recording dates back to 1994, and there is apparently a second volume to come that completes the nine overtures. Neither has been previously issued, the performances by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, with Andrew Penny conducting, are committed and with many excellent solo passages. If the sound quality lacks a little impact, it is well detailed.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group