MALIPIERO:  Sette invenzioniQuattro invenzioni.  Symphonic fragments from the opera Il finto Arlecchino.  Vivaldiana.
Veneto Philharmonic Orch/Peter Maag, cond.
NAXOS 8.555515 (B) (DDD) TT:  63:03

Gian Francesco Malipiero was born in 1882—three years after Respighi, one before Alfredo Casella—but hung in there till 1973. Along with Vittorio Rieti (1898-1964), they were symphonic counterparts of Puccini and the Seven Dwarfs—Heuwell Tircuit's coinage, not mine (but I wish it had been)—in the generation between Martucci and Dallapiccola. Thanks to the late Antonio de Almeida, a fair amount of Malipiero's prodigious output can be found on Marco Polo, Naxos' pricey sibling. But none of those performances I've heard with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra come near these by the Veneto Philharmonic Orchestra under Peter Maag (who died on April 30, 2001, at age 81, just 10 days after Giuseppe Sinopoli), recorded at Treviso the first week in May 1991.

The playing is spiffy, to borrow from the vintage slang that Virgil Thomson took such delight in using. However many takes were needed to produce 18 cuts that last just over an hour, there is no evidence of physical fatigue or lagging enthusiasm. The unspecified venue was not large, yet resonant enough to enliven Malipiero's elegant orchestration without muddying it. The music wears uncommonly well, although only Vivaldiana from 1952 is forthrightly tuneful in the tradition of Respighi's three Antiche arie e danze Suites. Both sets of Invenzioni, 11 in all from 1933, had their origin in music for a film, Acciaio (Steel, that is), though only some of Malipiero's music was used by the director. Piqued, the composer included all of it in these two suites, for such they are. Don't, however, expect an Italian equivalent of Prokofiev's Le Pas de Acier for Diaghilev, much less Aleksandr Mossolov's ballet The Iron Foundry, both of them introduced in 1927. Malipiero's steel is the kind found in Ferraris, not in Zils.

He composed the comic opera Il finto Arlecchino in 1925, and these four Frammenti musicali reflect its 18th-century Venetian setting. They may reflect Stravinsky's Neo-Classicism in Pulcinella (actually Roussel's idea as far back as 1906, followed by Ravel a decade later, and only then Little Igor in 1920) but neither copy nor kowtow. Malipiero may have been a few paces off the Great Composer mark, but he was a major one for his time and agreeable in ours.

The price could hardly be righter for discovery, if you haven't already. And Maag's performances with his Venetian (not Viennese) orchestra would be recommendable at double the cost of Naxos' CD.

R.D. (April 2001)