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Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, December 2010

A lovely Dallapiccola disc offers some of his piano music (Piccolo Concerto for Piano and Chamber Orchestra, Sonata canonica on Paganini caprices, three episodes from the ballet Marsia, Quaderno musicale di Annalibera) and his Two Pieces for Orchestra (5045). Pietro Massa is the excellent pianist, with the Berlin Radio Orchestra led by Peter Hirsch. The Piccolo Concerto turns out to be a delightful and substantial 20-minute piece in six movements. The Sonata canonica represents the composer’s interest in the canonic forms that so influenced Webern. The Quaderno is a collection of eleven twelve-tone pieces dedicated to his daughter. The orchestra pieces were written in 1948;

James A. Altena
Fanfare, November 2010

Luigi Dallapiccola composed few works for solo piano; while Irene Comisso concedes in her booklet notes for this release that they “are often regarded as somewhat inferior to his vocal repertoire,” she immediately adds “but this does not correspond with the importance these works have in the creative development of the composer.” Arguing that “the compositions for piano … generally serve as a kind of preparation for the vocal compositions,” she points out that fully two-thirds of Dallapiccola’s works include the piano, and that the solo piano works, all composed between 1935 and 1952, constituted a key part of “a creative period during which the composer’s distinctive musical language was formed.”

The early Piccolo Concerto, dating from 1939–41, was dedicated by the composer to Muriel Couvreux, the seven-year-old daughter of Parisian friends. Cast in six short movements that form two sets of triplets, it is largely diatonic (a heavily disguised 12-tone row appears in the fifth movement, “Notturno”) and is written in the beautifully gossamer, delicate style of the fourth movement of the Partita for Orchestra that I reviewed in Fanfare 33:6. It makes extensive use of pentatonic and modal scales; the orchestra is used sparingly, with much emphasis given to solos for violin, cello, and the four chief woodwind instruments. The opening “Pastorale” is slow and tranquil, with legato eighth notes flowing at a measured pace. Functioning as the scherzo, the following “Girotondo” features angular jagged lines with rapid runs, meter shifts, and numerous percussion effects. The “Ripresa” restores calm with leisurely, limpid movement. A cadenza for solo piano has a declamatory opening that quickly gives way to quieter material, with the two moods alternating back and forth. Ghostly effects, vaguely reminiscent of the first Nachtmusik movement of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, open the “Notturno,” but the following use of a descending chromatic scale and its concomitant harmonization bring Debussy to mind instead. The Finale closes the work with a stately dance of solemn joy.

The Sonatina Canonica on Capricci by Niccolò Paganini (to give its full title in English), dating from 1942–43, was the first work in which Dallapiccola employed the contrapuntal techniques of the Second Viennese School, whose compositions he had recently studied intensively, such as the “crab canon” (canon cancrizans). Cast in four movements, its mood is predominantly light and simple. The Allegretto comodo begins with fragmentary phrases in a slow opening, and then segues into the main section, where a quasi-Bachian series of rapid runs alternates with an almost childlike dance in three-quarter meter. The ensuing Largo sounds deceptively fast, its dance rhythms tinged with a slight Spanish inflection. A subdued Andante sostenuto follows, and the work closes with a merry, almost droll Alla marcia; moderato.

The Tre Episodi from 1949–50 are derived from Dallapiccola’s orchestral ballet score of 1942–43; the booklet notes are unclear as to whether the composer simply reduced excerpts for piano or composed the pieces afresh from the same thematic material. The episodes are out of sequence from the original dramatic action. The first, from the ballet’s central episode, depicts the contest between the faun Marsia and the god Apollon; once again the presence of Debussy is felt in its running, rippling scales that alternate with ostinato fragments, indicating the faun’s increasingly frustrated efforts. The second, from the opening of the ballet, portrays Marsia’s discovery of the flute and resulting ecstatic dance with a succession of agitated, rippling runs. The third, from the finale, delineates Marsia’s death and immortalization by Apollon; aside from one brief stormy passage early on, it consists of soft, fragmentary, recurring thematic motifs.

The Quaderno musicale of 1952, in homage to Bach’s Anna Magdalena Notebook, was dedicated to Dallapiccola’s 11-year-old daughter Annalibera, and is divided into 11 sections. About 18 minutes in length, it is the only solo piano work on this disc written in a strictly dodecaphonic style. Heavily influenced by Webern and Berg, it is highly cerebral and dry, showing none of the appealing Italianate lyricism that permeates most of Dallapiccola’s other compositions. Except for two short interludes titled “Accenti” and “Ritmi,” composed of sharply attacked chords, and the crashing, ominous clusters of the “Ombre” (Shadow) movement, the music does not rise above a mezzo piano in volume.

The booklet curiously provides no notes whatsoever about the Due Pezzi. Composed in 1948, these too are dodecaphonic works, albeit this time more akin to Schoenberg. As with much of Dallapiccola’s orchestral music, the “Sarabanda” is transparently scored for chamber-size forces only; it moves uneasily, even apprehensively, through its dance rhythms. The following “Fanfara e Fuga” brings the full orchestra to bear, employing insistent, jagged triplet motifs and shifting meter to considerable dramatic effect. The orchestral playing is top-notch.

Recorded in excellent sound, these are fine, probing performances on a par with those of Mariaclara Monetti praised by Peter Burwasser in Fanfare 22:4, preferable to the more superficial traversals by Roberto Prosseda on Naxos (who makes some pieces almost sound like salon music), and vastly superior to the brittle, clanging renditions by Raffaele Mani on the Meta label, which offers the only alternative at present for the Piccolo Concerto. Monetti performs the attractive Ricercare (on the Name of Luigi Dallapiccola) by Mario Castelnouvo-Tedesco instead of the Piccolo Concerto on her solo piano disc, so allow your preference for the filler item to dictate which disc you prefer to acquire if this repertoire attracts you. The Due Pezzi is also available in a superb performance by Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic on Chandos, a 2005 Want List selection for Burwasser.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, September 2010

CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Piano Concerto No. 2 / Passatempi / Onde / La sirenetta e il pesce turchino / Alghe / Vitalba e Biancospina (Massa) C5046
DALLAPICCOLA, L.: Piano Music (Piano Rarities) (Massa) C5045

The Florence Conservatory figured heavily in the lives of these two Italian composers. It was there that Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1968) received his musical training between 1912 and 1918 from Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880–1968, see the newsletter of 10 September 2010), and where Luigi Dallapiccola (1904–1975) got a degree, becoming a professor of piano in 1931. But the rise of the Nazis (1933–45) with their anti-Semitic policies soon created hardships for both men.

Being Jewish, Mario fled to the United States in 1939, where he’d spend the rest of his life, supplementing his income by writing Hollywood film scores like his fellow expatriates Schoenberg (1874–1951), Korngold (1897–1957, see the newsletter of 9 August 2007) and Tansman (1897–1986, see the newsletter of 11 May 2009). As for Luigi, who was Aryan, his having a Jewish wife made their life in Italy increasingly difficult, to the point where they were forced into hiding on a couple of occasions during World War II (1939–45).

Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote tonally based music of late romantic persuasion throughout his career, while Dallapiccola adopted the serialist principles of the Second Viennese School in his later works. All of the selections on the two CDs featured here are either tonal or soft-core dodecaphonic.

The first one is devoted to piano music by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and begins with the world première recording of his second piano concerto. Written between 1936 and 1937, which were some of the worst years in fascist Italy for the composer, it had to wait until he escaped to America for its first performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City (1939). In the standard three movements, the piano is set off against a medium-sized orchestra made all the more colorful with the inclusion of a variety of winds and even a bell. The animated opening movement has a couple of attractive thematic ideas the composer develops with some attendant keyboard pyrotechnics reminiscent of Rachmaninov (1873–1943).

The following the concerto’s emotional core with two alternating spun-out melodies that are sequentially graceful and introspective. It segues directly into the restless angular finale that may remind you of Paganini’s (1762–1840) more showy moments. The closing measures contain impressive bravura piano passages, and a fiery finish for full orchestra.

Five works for solo piano fill out the disc, beginning with two related to the sea. They are La sirenetta e il pesce turchino – Flaba marina (The Little Mermaid and the Turquoise Fish – A Marine Fairy Tale) of 1920, and Alghe (Seaweed) from 1919, which Debussy (1862–1918) and Ravel (1875–1937) would have loved. They’re followed by another impressionistic fable from 1921 Vitalba e Biancospino – Flaba silvana (Clematis and Hawthorn – A Forest Fairy Tale).

The last two selections are Passatempi – cinque piccoli Walzer (Diversions – Five Short Waltzes) of 1928, and the world première recording of the 1935 Onde – Due Studi (Waves – Two Études). Lasting roughly a minute each, the waltzes are charming snapshots of old Vienna taken with a camera having a Ravelian lens. The études, which owe a debt to Chopin (1810–1849), are flowing sinusoids. They may well be a musical representation of radio waves, as they were written for Mario’s doctor in payment for some radiotherapy he’d undergone. Judging from these pieces, Doc must have been one heck of a pianist!

You’ll find the next disc with piano music by Dallapiccola not exactly out in twelve-tones-ville, but significantly more chromatically progressive. The first selection is the Piccolo Concerto per Muriel Couvreux (Petite Concerto for Muriel Couvreux) for piano and chamber orchestra from 1939–41. Dedicated to the seven-year-old daughter of Parisian friends, you’ll find it appropriately childlike with pentatonic elements that bring to mind Debussy’s pediatric creations such as the Children’s Corner Suite (1906–08).

Structurally unique, it’s in two tripartite movements with the first consisting of a “pastorale,” “girotondo” (“Ring Around the Rosie”) and “ripresa” (“repise"). It opens as the woodwinds with occasional avian chirps from the piano introduce a lazy eight-note melodic row (LE) that brings to mind a warm summer day. The pace quickens in the whirling “girotondo" where the soloist and tutte frantically chase each other around like small children to a repeated campanological sounding riff derived from LE. They finally fall exhausted to the ground in the lyrically relaxed LE-laced “reprisa" which concludes the first movement.

The opening part of the final movement is a resplendent cadenza for the piano, once again built around LE. It transitions directly into a lovely nocturne for the orchestra based on romanticized fragments of LE decorated with sporadic pianistic ornaments. The ebullient finale recalls previous ideas including LE, and ends the concerto with a joyful D major chord. This music will appeal to the child in everyone!

Three solo piano works are next, beginning with the 1942–43 Sonatina canonica in mi bemolle maggiore su “Capricci" di Niccolò Paganini (Canonical Sonata in Eb major on Caprices by Niccolò Paganini). In four miniature movements, there’s a naive cheerfulness about it that belies the considerable demands placed on the soloist, and some rather involved canonic counterpoint. The last movement is a delightful Marche Miniature based on the fourteenth of Paganini’s 24 Caprices for violin (Op. 1, 1801–07).

The much more intense Tre Episodi dal Balletto “Marsia" (Three Episodes from the Ballet “Marsia”) of 1949–50 derived from his 1948 stage work follows. The composer is beginning to show his dodecaphonic stripes here by unifying all three with a recurring twelve-tone row. Except for this, the piece remains tonal with pentatonic colorations reminiscent of Debussy. The knuckle-busting middle “ostinato” is not for beginners!

The last solo piano selection is the Quaderno musicale di Annalibera (Annalibera Dallapiccola’s Music Notebook) written for the composer’s daughter in 1952. The eleven brief pieces comprising it could be considered a homage to old J.S. Bach (1685–1750) along the lines of the Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook (1722–25), but with no singing. These pieces are tightly interlinked, and meant to be played sequentially at one sitting. Contrapuntally complex, the B-A-C-H (Bb-A-C-B in English notation) motif is used repeatedly as a unifying factor in conjunction with tone-rows, making this the most serialist sounding piece here. But even then, the concluding “quartina” is a melodized version of the basic row that ends these exercises on listener friendly terms.

The disc closes with Due Pezzi per Orchestra (Two Pieces for Orchestra) from 1946–48. This is a symphonic version of a work for violin and piano based on material for an unrealized documentary film about Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca (1415–1492). The opening “Saraband” brings to mind the identically named first of Busoni’s (1866–1924) Two Studies for “Doktor Faust” (1918–19). But the Dallapiccola is serially sinister except for some moderating references to Early Music. The second piece, “Fanfare and Fugue,” opens imperiously, elaborating on ideas in the preceding one. It then ends with a warming burst of light from a C sharp major triad.

Pianist Pietro Massa is our soloist on both discs, and one couldn’t ask for a better advocate of this little-known music. An accomplished technician when it comes to the more demanding passages in the Castelnuovo-Tedesco selections, he shows great sensitivity and restraint in Dallapiccola’s more intricate creations. The Berlin Symphoniker under conductor Alessandro Crudele makes a strong impression providing Signore Massa with impeccable support on the first CD. The same can also be said of conductor Peter Hirsch and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra in regard to the second. Many will find their deeply felt reading of Due Pezzi superior to others out there.

The recordings are excellent, but not quite demonstration quality. The concerto on the first disc was done in a different venue from that used for the orchestral selections on the other. Still the soundstages projected are amazingly similar, with the one for the more conservatively scored Dallapiccola being a bit narrower. The instrumental timbre tends towards the bright side, but reverberant surroundings moderate this to some degree without blurring the sound. The piano in both concertos is well rounded and balanced against the orchestra.

The solo piano pieces on both releases were done in the same studio, and are ideally presented across a generous soundstage in a nurturing acoustic. The recordings accurately capture the forte passages in Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music without any hint of digital grain, as well as the exquisite detail of the more restrained Dallapiccola selections.

Stephen Estep
American Record Guide, September 2010

The Petite Concerto for Muriel Couvreux, for piano and chamber orchestra, is a delightful 20-minute piece in six short movements. It is light and charming, but with the blood of seriousness pulsing through it, making for an excellent balance and keeping it from sounding cloying. A simple pentatonic melody opens the work, but it’s not long before Dallapiccola tweaks our ears with a tritone out of nowhere. Movements follow—slow, dreamy, beautiful, drifting, 12-tone, march-like, but always interesting.

The Canonic Sonata (for piano) in E-flat on Caprices by Niccolo Paganini “is the first composition where Dallapiccola experiments with the technique of contrapuntal editing that was so important to the Second Viennese School (Berg, Schoenberg, Webern)”. The notes deign to explain what contrapuntal editing is; if you dislike serialism, don’t worry—the piece is fairly tonal, rather like Lutoslawski’s Paganini Variations. The four brief movements are delightful.

Three Episodes from the ballet Marsia are the composer’s own transcription for piano; the piece is evocative and exciting and apparently difficult, while avoiding ostentatious virtuosity. I hear Debussy, Scriabin, and Busoni in it. The sense of mystery and myth make it an attractive piece, one that should be performed much more often.

Music Booklet for Annalibera, for his daughter, is strict serialism, elegant and attractive (two words rarely used to describe serial music) for much of its duration...Two Pieces for Orchestra (nothing in the notes about them) are probably serial, and they remind me of Webern with their microscopic gestures, but there is a tenderness to them as well. I is called ‘Sarabande’ and II ‘Fanfare and Fugue’. I does not sound much like a traditional sarabande, but there is a subtle feel of movement to it; II is predictable. The orchestra and pianist play well...if you want to hear serialism made enjoyable, try it out. Notes in German, English, and French.

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