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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.

Phillip Scott
Fanfare, March 2011

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1968) wrote a lot more than guitar music, even though he is mostly remembered for his First Guitar Concerto. Mentored by Casella and Pizzetti, the Jewish Italian was already celebrated as a composer when he escaped Mussolini’s Italy to head for California. The extent of his fame may be gathered by the fact that a commission for a violin concerto immediately followed from Heifitz, and Toscanini continued to champion his work. Having settled in Hollywood, he plunged into film composing, not neglecting his concert output, and taught such future luminaries as Henry Mancini and John Williams. He had always been fascinated by Shakespeare’s plays and wrote two complete operas based on them, many settings of Shakespearean lyrics, and 11 concert overtures, of which five may be heard on this release. (The disc is designated Volume 2; the remaining six overtures appear in Volume 1.)

With the exception of the rollicking King John (1941), the overtures are more in the nature of episodic tone poems, replete with the full harmonies and lavish orchestrations familiar from 1940s film music. The episodes within each work are prefaced by quotations from the play; these sections each express a general mood rather than forming a dramatic arc or storyline. The comedies As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing include chirpy pastoral episodes, dominated by woodwinds, while the latter’s middle section consists of a funeral march inspired by Claudio’s call, “Now music, sound, and sing your solemn hymn.” The turbulent Merchant of Venice Overture (1933) features a recurring theme with a Hebraic melodic twist (representing Shylock) and maintains a good deal of dramatic tension throughout—not surprising in view of the composer’s circumstances at the time. The most individual work in this collection is the overture to The Winter’s Tale (1935), appropriately, since the play is one of Shakespeare’s quirkiest. The overture begins pastorally but the wintry atmospherics soon lead into a tarantella built around the figure of a falling semitone—very reminiscent of Pizzetti (in particular his Rondò Veneziano). A sad cello theme dominates the middle section; it too undergoes some variation before the tarantella returns for the close. Castelnuovo-Tedesco effectively captures the wide contrasts in the play between comedy and tragedy, and between the nobility and the peasantry.

The overture to As You Like It (1953) is alternately jaunty and courtly, and it is clear at the conclusion that “journeys end in lovers meeting.” This is one of two of these works previously recorded, in this case by Robert Whitney and the Louisville Orchestra (to whom it was dedicated). That LP is long gone. King John was recorded by its dedicatee, John Barbirolli, and the New York Philharmonic in a vintage performance reissued by Guild two years ago. Fanfare’s Barry Brenesal dispatched the work as “pleasant if thoroughly unmemorable” (31:6); I agree to the extent that it is less varied than its companions on the new disc.

In mid 1994 I was involved with a recording session with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, and I remember reading on the schedule that it had taped some of these overtures the previous week. A couple of the orchestra members told me how much they enjoyed playing the music, which they had never heard before and had prepared in a hurry. I was intrigued and made a mental note to buy the disc. Well, better late than never! Sixteen years on, the recordings have finally been released. Why they were in the Naxos vault for all that time I have no idea. The performances are neat and even passionate when required; the orchestra is set at a slight distance but all its sections are clearly balanced by conductor Andrew Penny (best known for his excellent Naxos set of the Malcolm Arnold symphonies). The rushed taping circumstances are by no means discernible—a tribute to the musicians’ skill and high standards. If this disc is tempting, you have no reason to hesitate. I will certainly be getting hold of Volume 1.

Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International, February 2011

I have often wondered why the music of the Florentine Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco has been so rarely heard at least in Britain. He was after all hugely influential and after moving to America taught well-known figures like André Previn and Henry Mancini. He was also an extraordinarily prolific composer.

I have known the Violin Concerto for several years and it has received a few good recordings for example by Itzhak Perlman (EMI Classics 754296 2). I also knew a little about his film music in the 1950s and 1960s but little else. I suspect that he has been elbowed out because he appears less important or original than his contemporaries Pizzetti, Dallapiccola and Casella. Despite my interest and the purchasing of a few piano pieces—mostly when in Italy and second-hand—I did not realize the composer’s obsession with Shakespeare: two operas The Merchant of Venice and All’s Well That Ends Well, thirty-five sonnet settings and thirty three separate songs. There are also eleven concert overtures which are less overtures and more like symphonic poems. I somehow managed to miss Volume 1 in this series, which is a pity because it includes his first effort in this genre, The Taming of he Shrew. Nevertheless what we have on the present disc are five overtures ranging from the longest, composed in 1930, to the last of over twenty years later.

Let’s take them in chronological order.The Merchant of Venice, weighing in at over fifteen minutes, could almost be described as a tone poem. It has an opening unison string melody which does indeed sound rather Eastern—perhaps I could say Jewish—and it does, of course, represent Shylock. The mood later on however is sometimes reminiscent of Scheherazade. There is, suitably, a romantic moment when, after about seven minutes a lyrical tune enters possibly representing the lovers Jessica, Shylock’s daughter and Lorenzo with whom she elopes. Although printed in the Comedies the work ends in the minor key in a serious and almost tragic vein, which seems quite appropriate.

A Winter’s Tale is something of a disappointment in many ways. Whilst it is true, to quote the excellent notes by conductor Andrew Penny and Graham Wade, that when listening to these pieces we should know that they the composer set out to “create impressions of specific aspects of the drama rather than following closely the details of the plot” I still found that there was a lack of momentum and power. The first part of the play is taken over by King Leontes’ all-consuming jealousy when he comes to believe that his wife has produced a bastard son by his childhood friend Polexenes. There is a faster and slightly wild passage half-way through but this does not convey the mood satisfactorily. The beautiful Bohemian second half of the play as well as a strong mood of nostalgia earlier in the music dominate the work therefore not representing the contrasts found in the plot.

Shakespeare’s quite early play King John is a misunderstood and rarely performed political drama. Castelnuovo-Tedesco heads up his score with a quote from the end of the play beginning “That England never did, nor never shall, Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror”. This sonata-form structure begins with a militaristic Elgarian march and there is even a touch of lyrical English pastoralism in the second subject that possibly reflects the (brief) feminine influences on the King or of his innocent young son Prince Henry. The piece though is not particularly programmatic but it was a suitable choice for a work written in 1941 during a time of fervent hopes for an allied victory in Europe. I really took to it. Concision and memorable ideas abound and this should be heard in Britain.

You will spend a most enjoyable ten minutes in the presence of the Much Ado About Nothing. This features those two young bickering characters, later lovers, Beatrice and Benedict who became also the leading personalities behind Berlioz’s comic opera. The overture is divided into five sections: an Introduction recalling pipers and general gaiety, then Badinage followed by a fine Funeral March which reaches a great climax and finally a Love Duet ending happily and in elation. This is suitable music for a most joyous play.

The last Overture is for As you like it. In this we hear hunting horns setting the forest scene in Arden where Duke Senior has been exiled. There also Rosalind and Celia, his daughters, will hide away. A general sense of anticipation and jollity rules the day. The style is a little Hollywood at times and while I know that Shakespeare had a wobbly sense of geography Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s forest seems to be more Mediterranean than a fresh English Spring or summer wood. We even have a dance section with castanets! That said, it’s a successful piece of really light music; and none the worse for that I hear you cry.

The disc is recorded at a slightly low level and the volume control will need to raised otherwise some sections of the orchestra can sound rather recessed. Unless I’ve missed a trick I can’t see why this disc has had to wait sixteen or so years to emerge, but it has been worth it. The music is unfailingly attractive, is colourfully orchestrated and sympathetically played. And so, for such a modest outlay, this is well worth searching out.

Robert Moon
Audiophile Audition, December 2010

This is the second disc of overtures based on Shakespeare plays by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1968), an Italian composer who studied with Pizzetti and Casella. He left Italy in 1938, when promised refuge from Mussolini’s anti-Jewish edicts by Toscanini and Heifetz. Toscanini conducted many of his works and Heifetz commissioned a violin concerto from Castelnuovo-Tedesco. He settled in Los Angeles and wrote film music between 1940 and 1956. His pupils included Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, Andre Previn, and John Williams. The composer wrote a wide variety of works that include operas, ballets, choral pieces, concertos, and of course, film scores.

The compositions on this disc are representative of film scores, and you can hear the influences of Korngold (without the fecundity of melodies), Mahler, and Bernard Hermann, among others. However, Castelnuovo-Tedesco spun plenty of gorgeous tunes bathed in the large flamboyant tonal orchestrations that film composers of the era used. His love of Shakespeare resulted in short (none more than 15 minutes) overtures that are impressions of specific aspects of the drama, rather than musical representation of plot details. For example, the overture As You Like It starts with jaunty resemblances of pipers and dancers, continues with a funeral march from Claudio’s invocation in Act V, Scene 3, “Now music, sound and sing your solemn hymn.” Music that brings to mind the love duet between Beatrice and Benedict follows. These Shakespearean musical representations use a wide variety of instrumentations that are often thrilling and consistently beautiful. The performances are musically proficient and the sound is excellent though not of the highest audiophile standards. If you like the movie scores of Korngold, Rosza and the great Hollywood composers of the 1940s and 1950s, you will love this disc.

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., November 2010

There is fascinating discovery available in 20th-century music as well. The second release in Naxos’ two-volume set of overtures to Shakespeare plays by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco is at the same very high level as the first. Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote these overtures starting in the 1930s (The Merchant of Venice, the earliest on this CD, dates to 1933) and into the 1950s (the final ones, Much Ado about Nothing and As You Like It, date to 1953 and are also on this disc). Shakespeare was a major influence on Castelnuovo-Tedesco: in addition to his 11 overtures, he set 35 sonnets and 33 songs from the plays to music. In the overtures, he does not try to encapsulate the plays but to interpret elements of them in music. Thus, a section called The Forest of Arden is a major part of the As You Like It overture, while the entire overture for The Merchant of Venice is tied to Shylock’s exclamation about his daughter fleeing with a Christian—the famous comment in which he shows himself equally distraught over his daughter and his ducats. The King John overture also relies on something very famous from this less-known play: the patriotic statement about England with which the drama ends, and which clearly inspired Castelnuovo-Tedesco when he created this work in the darkest days of World War II (1941). Occasionally, Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s musical choices are obvious, such as the final Love Duet in the Much Ado about Nothing overture. But more often, they are surprising and musically innovative: Castelnuovo-Tedesco uses quite a big orchestra and creates a wide range of coloristic effects with a large brass section, two harps, and percussion that often includes tubular bells, side drum, glockenspiel and even castanets. The music of Castelnuovo-Tedesco is not especially well known, and these overtures even less so: four of the five on the new CD (all except Much Ado about Nothing) have never been recorded before. Andrew Penny and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra do full justice to the composer’s skillful handling of musical forces, making the discovery of this music a complete pleasure.

Cinemusical, November 2010

Music by Hollywood composers Henry Mancini, Andre Previn, Nelson Riddle, and John Williams all owe a little bit to the ideas of orchestration and composition by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. The composer had each of them, and many others, as students when he taught at the Los Angeles Conservatory. Naxos is releasing these premiere recordings of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s eleven overtures drawn from Shakespeare over two discs. The first volume was reviewed in October. This release features the remaining five works composed over a twenty-year span.

The disc begins with a later work, As You Like It, Op. 166. Composed in 1953, it is the last of the overtures to appear. The music here has moments of magical qualities that float about in a post-impressionist atmosphere with fine woodwind writing led by an English Horn solo. Dotted rhythms are played against a variety of woodwind flutters as the piece grows to a very romantic sound but with some fascinating parallel movements and intriguing harmonic movement. As with many of these “overtures”, the piece works more like a tone poem and of all the works, this one dissolves as well.

The great conductor Arturo Toscanini was the dedicatee to the next work on the disc, The Merchant of Venice, Op. 76 (1933). A rather unusual melodic line that hints at Middle-Eastern flavors opens the piece which is filled with big brass foreboding. This is a piece that lands fairly firm in the Romantic orchestral tradition and features enough room for dramatic tempo shifts and movement of the melodic idea around the orchestra. It is another of the more cinematic-sounding of the overtures. One is constantly struck by the way Castelnuovo-Tedesco orchestrates with such clarity throughout. At fifteen minutes it seems just a tad overlong, but it does take the orchestra well through its paces and the final pages are filled with the sort of ardent romantic writing from the most overwrought of Hollywood films.

Much Ado About Nothing, Op. 164 (1953), a play also treated by Korngold, was written for Robert Whitney and the Louisville Orchestra. It is cast in the most romantic of musical clothing and opens with some wonderfully written wind parts that moves to another richly-scored thematic idea for oboe. The overture is more a series of impressions of various scenes of the play, as are most of these pieces, and like the others contains quotations from specific parts of the play in the score. Most interesting is a funeral march section with low woodwind colors led by bass clarinet (recalling a similar approach in the composer’s earlier Julius Caesar). The piece moves on to a finale where various thematic ideas all come together.

1941’s overture inspired by King John, Op. 111, has a most energetic opening and then moves into a more brass driven section that is more akin to something by Walton. The musical inference of English concert music is perhaps due to its intended dedicatee, Sir John Barbirolli. Barbirolli had recently come to take the helm of the New York Philharmonic Symphony and this piece was one of several concert recordings that has surfaced in the past. It is filled with a sort of warlike dramatic tension that moves forward with hopefulness in its final moments. It is overall though one of the darker of the eleven overtures and perhaps features the most thrilling of the finales—definitely a work easier to program as an exciting start to a concert program.

The disc concludes with music for one of Shakespeare’s lesser performed plays, A Winters Tale, Op. 80. The 1935 piece features a theme that would be reused as the second theme of the slow movement in the composer’s more familiar Guitar Concerto (1939). The opening of the piece is quite beautiful with woodwinds and harp cast against a cello theme. Again the music has a truly magical quality enhanced by the harp and bell sounds that color the orchestration. The opening melody takes some interesting twists and turns as it progresses and the big orchestral moments are simply gorgeous.

The pieces here continue to illustrate Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s brilliance as an orchestrator and creator of quite dramatic music influences by specific scenes in his source inspiration. The sometimes Delius-like impressionist writing with fuller orchestral romanticism has much to recommend it in terms of accessibility. The themes themselves are not terribly memorable in these works but one is often caught up by the overall engaging sound of the pieces themselves.

The performances here by the West Australian Symphony are all well done. There are some large string moments that feel as if they could be bolstered by more players. The many wind soloists are exemplary throughout and they are assisted by a detailed and mostly clear recording that allows the atmospheric colors of the music to be warm without being muddy.

David Hurwitz, October 2010

This second release in Naxos’ two-disc series of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s complete overtures inspired by various Shakespeare plays fills a serious gap in the catalog. Written largely after the composer (who was Jewish) escaped fascist Italy and subsequently established himself successfully in Hollywood, the music is wonderful. Much of it, naturally, has a “film music” sort of sound, but in these enlightened times there’s no longer anything wrong with that. Castelnuovo-Tedesco called these pieces “overtures”, but they are really closer to symphonic poems or suites, based on particular episodes of each play (and even specific speeches).

As the above list of titles suggests, most of these are comedies, and the music is correspondingly light and tuneful. It’s also very nice to see music inspired by Shakespeare’s less familiar works. The composer does manage to strike a deeper note in The Merchant of Venice, which is also the longest work on the program, and the exuberant scoring for large orchestra is always effective. So are these performances, which are very attractive and confident, particularly given the unfamiliarity of the music (there are several world-premiere recordings made from manuscript copies of the scores)...Strongly recommended.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2010

The second of two discs containing the complete Shakespeare overtures by the Italian composer, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Last month I wrote at length on the cycle created through much of the life of the Italian-born composer, the era from which they came indicated by the language used [See 8.572500 – Ed]. Having escaped before the Nazis occupied Italy, those in English date from the time when he enjoyed a major career in the Hollywood film industry. Indeed the graphic pictures of As You Like It would have made excellent material for a film score, the horn solo bringing to life a hunt that could have taken place in the play’s setting of the Forest of Arden. Twenty years earlier, in 1933, he dedicated Il mercante di Venezia to Toscanini, and though it would appear he did not conduct the work, he often programmed Castelnuovo-Tedesco in his concerts. It is a much more serious score, the colours subtle and muted. Even with the attractive melodic invention in the seductive central section, it lacks the melody that lodges in your memory. We move back to the 1950’s for Much Ado about Nothing, composed for that inveterate supporter of everything modern, Robert Witney and his Louisville Orchestra. A score that will bring a smile to your face, it is in contrast to King John where patriotic flavour would have been appropriate for the wartime spirit 1941. Finally the undoubted masterpiece of the series, Il racconto d’inverno (The Winter’s Tale), the orchestration coming in direct line of Respighi’s finest scores.The West Australian Symphony cannot hide the music’s many challenges, but the British conductor, Andrew Penny, steers them safely though.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group