Paganiniana. Serenata. La Giara.
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana/Christian Benda, cond.
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Alfredo Casella (1883-1947) studied with Fauré in Paris, knew many of the
leading musical figures of the time, and supposedly was influenced by Richard
Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Stravinsky and Albeniz. He had a career as a pianist and
harpsichordist. In 1917 he established the Societa Nazionale di Musica, which later
became the Societa Italiana di Musica Moderna and, eventually, Corporazione della
Nuove Musiche, an organization affiliated with the International Society for
Contemporary Music. Casella always promoted new music of the time, to the
consternation of more conservative Italian composers of the time, particularly
Respighi, Pizzetti and Zandonai.
There are two fine recordings of Paganiniana, with Muti and Ormandy conducting, and I particularly enjoy the dazzling live performance with Kondrashin and the Concertgebouw, unfortunately available only for a brief time (Philips 438 281). The orchestra on this new Naxos recording, "Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana," is second-rate at best; they struggle with the notes; brass in particular are taxed, and the performers not helped by a shallow, bass-light recording. The tenor soloist in the lovely tenor song in La Giara is totally undistinguished. An early London stereo LP set the standard for La Giara, with Fernando Previtali and the St. Cecilia Academy Orchestra of Rome, recorded in 1956 in fine early stereo. The tenor was Felice Luzi, and he was superb. This would be a great candidate for CD reissue. There is another recording of La Giara on La Bottega Discantica, and it is superb. It also has the advantage of completeness; it contains about ten minutes of music not included in the regular suite. The Symphonic Orchestra of the Province of Lecce is conducted by Marco Balderi, with the tenor soloist Riccardo Caruso (his three minutes of singing give him first listing in Schwann/Opus).(To digress, isn't it stupid for that publication to list soloists first in symphonies? If you're looking for Jascha Horenstein's recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 4, you'll find it listed under "M. Price."). The Discantica CD is beautifully recorded, with warmth and resonance lacking in the new Naxos. Not quite as good a performance as Previtali's, but it will do. (La Bottega Discantica 23). This is filled out with the Serenata, Op. 30, sounding much more impressive than it does on Naxos.
R.E.B. (Aug. 2001)