ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
Nino Rota - Symphonies 1 & 2 - Marzio Conti (Conductor)

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NINO ROTA - SYMPHONIES 1 & 2 - FILHARMONICA 900 DEL TEATRO REGIO DI TORINO - 095115154625 - Chandos 10546

Viva Italia: Asked to name a prominent modern Italian composer of orchestral music, most collectors could come up with Ottorino Respighi. After that, it gets a bit vague. Other composers have popped up on disc from time to time but never enough to convince collectors that Italy was anything other than an orchestral backwater. In 2005, CPO released a very successful recording of the two symphonies of Franco Alfano (7770802). The Brandenburg State Orchestra under Israel Yinon performed these strong works with such finesse and conviction that suddenly there was reason to suspect that preconceptions about an entire national output might be reconsidered. Ample opportunity to do so was provided in the past year by a concentrated surge of high quality recordings of Italian orchestral works. Note should be taken of these fine albums:

1 - Naxos devoted four discs (8.570929/30/31/32) to the complete orchestral music of Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909). The Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma conducted by Francesco La Vecchia gives excellent performance of Martucci’s two symphonies and two piano concertos along with a clutch of stimulating orchestral miniatures. The series offers the best demonstration yet of how the composer earned the lifelong admiration of Arturo Toscanini.

2 - Originally recorded by the Marco Polo label in 1993-94, the eleven numbered and six titled symphonies of Gian Francesco Malipiero (1883-1973) are being re-issued by Naxos (8.570878/79/80 and continuing). The late Antonio de Almeida conducted the Moscow Symphony Orchestra in this comprehensive tribute to the composer. Malipiero was an expressive but astringent modernist whose compositions reflect the turbulence of his times. The cycle is just passing the four-disc mark.

3 - To Alun Francis and the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra went the honour of recording the Third Symphony and Italia rhapsody by Alfredo Casella (1872-1947) for CPO (7772652). This music is a revelation. Casella’s music eclipses all that is familiar about Respighi’s legacy.

4 - And just to prove that the symphony continues to prosper along the Apennines, Naxos offers a recording (8.572039) of Symphonies Nos 1 & 2 by Sergio Rendine (b. 1954). The compositions date from 2006 and 2007. Rendine’s style is tonal, melodic but eruptive. Very approachable contemporary music. Orquestra Nacional Clàssica d’Andorra conducted by Marzio Conti (see below) render Rendine very persuasively.

All this is to introduce the first two symphonies of Nino Rota. The Chandos disc is like the icing on a cake labeled, “Italian Music: More Than Just Opera.”

Symphonic Rota: The symphonies of Nino Rota (1911-1979) have been described as, “Fluent but undistinguished.” Elsewhere, the music in the pairing of Numbers 1 and 2 is categorized as ‘pastoral’. The same generalization is commonly applied to the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams and it is just as misleading with respect to Rota. Like RVW, he enjoyed the advantage of a great depth of understanding of the alchemy of symphonic structure. Rota was also a master of orchestral colour (also gloriously evident is his scores for more than 100 feature films). Both of the symphonies here were completed in 1939. The works are almost most important for what is conspicuously absent. Fascist Italy favoured the grandiose and hobnailed militaristic (viz: Pines of Rome). Rota gave them music of refinement and grace. Consequently, the Second Symphony was not performed until 1975. Rota composed serious art music and taught the subject throughout his professional life. Thanks to this beautifully performed and recorded CD, we can appreciate for the first time his efforts away from the big screen. It is highly recommended to collectors with a passion for the twentieth century symphony. Let us hope that Marzio Conti and the Turin orchestra will favour us with a recording of Rota’s Third.

And More Rota: A very enterprising disc of late (1973-1977) compositions by Nino Rota has been issued by the Concerto label (CD 2043). The programme consists of the Second Cello Concerto, Concerto for Strings and the Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano. Enrico Bronzi, Allesandro Carbonare and Alberto Miodini perform with I Musici di Parma. The performances are outstanding.

Stephen Habington