Casella: Symphony No. 2 - Ventura
Ars Produktion ARS 38 232
Classical - Orchestral
Casella: Symphony No. 2, Op. 12, Symphonic Fragment from 'La donna serpente', Op. 50
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.
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