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Casella: Symphony No. 2 - Ventura

Casella: Symphony No. 2 - Ventura

Ars Produktion  ARS 38 232

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Casella: Symphony No. 2, Op. 12, Symphonic Fragment from 'La donna serpente', Op. 50

Sinfonieorchester Münster
Fabrizio Ventura (conductor)

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - May 4, 2017

Casella? Not one of the best known Italian composers. Understandable, since at the turn of the previous century practically everything in Italy revolved around opera, being the prevailing taste. But some tried other things, like Giuseppe Martucci and Alfredo Casella. The former, having composed some lovely music in the style of Brahms and Schuman, though generally not very well known either, is on record with 2 symphonies and 2 piano concerti and a number of smaller pieces (recorded by ASV at the end of 1990-ies ), which has given me much listening pleasure. His fellow countryman Casella is completely new to me and I’m most grateful for John’s comment (below), for it saved me a lot of research. So I sat myself down with the liner notes in front of me and listened.

To sum it up: The Symphony is for a larger part ‘Much Ado about Nothing’. Lots of bells and whistles; a real boon for the percussion section, and the brass, too, is allowed to shine etc. In fact, no compositional alley remains untrodden. Everything according to the book. A maybe over ambitious young man’s dream.

That said and done with, I’m pretty sure that the musicians must have enjoyed themselves immensely putting the notes to tone. With the help of the excellent DSD surround sound from the ARS-Produktion team, their joy bursts out of the recording. And here ‘surround’ is, indeed, ‘surround’. Under the baton of its Italian conductor, Fabrizio Ventura, no doubt the source of inspiration, the regional orchestra from the German provincial town of Münster is doing a fantastic job. Everything is finely tuned, perfectly harmonized, and with the sound stage broadened and deepened to full effect, the orchestra sounds bigger than its actual complement. Quite something, really.

Did I enjoy it? Up to a certain point. All the twists and turns do not reveal much inventive composing. Like Martucci, Casella was a pianist of fame. But unlike Martucci, not all pianists, however good they are, become good composers. And the tragedy is - and here I rely entirely on the liner notes - that Casella, who liked to be compared to Wagner and Mahler, arranged for Mahler to premiere his second symphony in Paris in the same week the premiere of his own was scheduled, with the sad result that it remained unpublished for the next 80 years.

Cassella did write an opera: ‘La donna serpente’ (The Snake Women), but critics were not positive. A collection of symphonic fragments had more success. These fragments have been bundled in two suites, the first of which is recorded here. The suggestion in the liner notes that it became ‘a staple of the concert repertoire’ seems wishful thinking, but I appreciate it more than the symphony. It’s more mature and doesn’t try to convince at all costs.

Playing and recording is all first rate, but one would be well advised to sample before buying, unless Italian bells & whistles is your thing.

Blangy-le-Chäteau,
Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2017 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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Comments (8)
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Comment by hiredfox - April 23, 2017 (1 of 8)

Nope, never heard of him either but Wiki has....

Quote "Casella was born in Turin, the son of Maria (née Uordino) and Carlo Casella.[1] His family included many musicians: his grandfather, a friend of Paganini's, was first cello in the San Carlo Theatre in Lisbon and eventually became soloist in the Royal Chapel in Turin. Alfredo's father, Carlo, was also a professional cellist, as were Carlo's brothers Cesare and Gioacchino; his mother was a pianist, who gave the boy his first music lessons.

Alfredo entered the Conservatoire de Paris in 1896 to study piano under Louis Diémer and composition under Gabriel Fauré; in these classes, George Enescu and Maurice Ravel were among his fellow students. During his Parisian period, Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky, and Manuel de Falla were acquaintances, and he was in contact with Ferruccio Busoni, Gustav Mahler, and Richard Strauss as well.

Casella developed a deep admiration for Debussy's output after hearing Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune in 1898, but pursued a more romantic vein (stemming from Strauss and Mahler) in his own writing of this period, rather than turning to impressionism. His first symphony of 1905 is from this time, and it is with this work that Casella made his debut as a conductor when he led the symphony's premiere in Monte Carlo in 1908.

Back in Italy during World War I, he began teaching piano at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. From 1927 to 1929 Casella was the principal conductor of the Boston Pops, where he was succeeded by Arthur Fiedler.[2] He was one of the best-known Italian piano virtuosos of his generation and together with Arturo Bonucci (cello) and Alberto Poltronieri (violin) he formed the Trio Italiano in 1930. This group played to great acclaim in Europe and America. His stature as a pianist and his work with the trio gave rise to some of his best-known compositions, including A Notte Alta, the Sonatina, Nove Pezzi, and the Six Studies, Op. 70, for piano. For the Trio to play on tour, he wrote the Sonata a Tre and the Triple Concerto.

Casella had his biggest success with the ballet La Giara, set to a scenario by Pirandello; other notable works include Italia, the Concerto Romano (inspired by the Wanamaker Organ), Partita and Scarlattiana for piano and orchestra, the Violin and Cello Concerti, Paganiniana, and the Concerto for Piano, Strings, Timpani and Percussion. Amongst his chamber works, both Cello Sonatas are played with some frequency, as is the very beautiful late Harp Sonata, and the music for Flute and Piano. Casella also made live-recording player piano music rolls for the Aeolian Duo-Art system, all of which survive today and can be heard. In 1923, together with Gabriele D'Annunzio and Gian Francesco Malipiero from Venice, he founded an association to promote the spread of modern Italian music, the "Corporation of the New Music."

The resurrection of Vivaldi's works in the 20th century is mostly thanks to the efforts of Casella, who in 1939 organised the now historic Vivaldi Week, in which the poet Ezra Pound was also involved. Since then Vivaldi's compositions have enjoyed almost universal success and the advent of historically informed performance has catapulted him to stardom once again. In 1947 the Venetian businessman Antonio Fanna founded the Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi, with the composer Malipiero as its artistic director, with the purpose of promoting Vivaldi's music and putting out new editions of his works. Casella's work on behalf of his Italian Baroque musical ancestors put him at the centre of the early 20th Century Neoclassical revival in music and influenced his own compositions profoundly. His editions of Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven's piano works, along with many others, proved extremely influential on the musical taste and performance style of Italian players in the following generations.[3]

Usually the generazione dell'ottanta ("generation of '80"), including Casella himself, Malipiero, Respighi, Pizzetti, and Alfano — all composers born around 1880, the post-Puccini generation — concentrated on writing instrumental works, rather than the operas in which Puccini and his musical forebears had specialised. Members of this generation were the dominant figures in Italian music after Puccini's death in 1924; they had their counterparts in Italian literature and painting. Casella, who was especially passionate about painting, accumulated an important collection of art and sculptures. He was perhaps the most "international" in outlook and stylistic influences of the generazione dell'ottanta, owing at least in part to his early musical training in Paris and the circle in which he lived and worked while there. He died in Rome.

Casella's students included Clotilde Coulombe, Stefan Bardas, Maria Curcio, Francesco Mander, Maurice Ohana, Robin Orr, Primož Ramovš, Nino Rota, Maria Tipo, Camillo Togni, and Bruna Monestiroli.

He was married in Paris in 1921 to Yvonne Müller (Paris 1892 – Rome 1977). Their granddaughter is actress Daria Nicolodi and their great-granddaughter is actress Asia Argento.[4][5]"

Comment by William Hecht - April 24, 2017 (2 of 8)

There is one other Casella sacd, Casella: Violin Concerto, Triple Concerto - Jurowski, Sanderling, a very attractive coupling of a triple concerto, more like a concerto grosso, and a violin concerto that makes me think of the Barber concerto without the memorable medlodies. I've never heard the Symphony #2 but the note writer for the concerto disc suggests that it inhabits Mahler's world. We'll see, I'm looking forward to it.

Comment by john hunter - April 30, 2017 (3 of 8)

And the recording?

Comment by hiredfox - May 2, 2017 (4 of 8)

Not released yet John.

Comment by Euell Neverno - May 4, 2017 (5 of 8)

Chandos put out a Cassella series in good RBCD sound. BBC Orch. Noseda

Comment by William Hecht - May 4, 2017 (6 of 8)

Yes, one of their many head scratching decisions on whether or not to release as an sacd. At this point I'd probably have another 40-50 sacds in my collection if Chandos had gone BIS' route of virtually all sacd releases. So many recordings with interesting repertoire, so few of them on sacd.

Comment by Jan Arell - May 8, 2017 (7 of 8)

Casella's symphonies have also been recorded by Naxos on CD in good to very good performances.

Comment by hiredfox - May 10, 2017 (8 of 8)

Thanks Adrian for a great review and insight. Your note of caution on the nature of the music should be noted by all those like me who are unfamiliar with the composer's output. Too risky a purchase for me.