ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
Amilcare Ponchielli - Chamber Music


AMILCARE PONCHIELLI - Chamber Music - Ensemble Villa Musica - MDG 3041618

When one mentions the name Amilcare Ponchielli (1834-1886), one work instantly springs to mind; his famous opera La Gioconda. And even more renowned and famous, is the Dance of the Hours from that opera, arranged here for wind nonet. That tune became an instant hit all around the world in the 1960s as the popular hit song 'Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!' by Allan Sherman. Not much else of the music of Ponchielli is well known these days, which is one of the many reasons why this new CD is a welcome addition to the catalogue.

All the pieces on this CD, Il Convegno, Capriccio, Danza delle Ore (Dance of the Hours), Quartetto, Paolo e Virginia reveal that they came from the hands of an Italian Opera composer. In 19th century Italy, to make it as a composer, you had to write great operas. These elegantly written chamber works, for all sorts of instrumental combinations of clarinets, piano, oboe, flute and violin, are so operatic in nature, that you constantly feel that a tenor will break out in song at any given moment. Ponchielli definitely knew how to combine instruments to create a pleasant sound. For example, the opening piece, Il Convegno, scored for only two clarinets and piano, is a delight to hear. Every piece recorded here by the Ensemble Villa Musica is, if nothing else, brimming with a joie de vivre and bel canto style that enlivens the music. The composer put as much care into these as he did in his operas.

Again the MDG recording reproduces the instruments with a lifelike and natural quality, with just the right space perspective between them. All in all a very entertaining and revealing recording that might just make you want to suddenly start singing. Who knows, you might discover that you're the next big opera star.

Jean-Yves Duperron