NAXOS 8.570928

In his New Grove’s entry on Franco Alfano (1875-1954), leading authority on 20th-Century Italian music John CG Waterhouse added the composer’s name to those of Pizzetti, Malipiero, Casella, and Respighi, the “traditional” quadrumvirate that identified the fathers of Italian modern music. With that acknowledgement, Waterhouse administered theoretical and critical justice to Alfano’s artistic creativity, which for too long had been confined exclusively to Alfano’s lauded and criticized completion of Puccini’s Turandot.

Musicologists’ re-evaluations or re-discoveries usually go sterile unless attentive performers “listen” to their calling and sacrifice time and effort for causes which may or may not bring them due reward. The present Naxos CD, dedicated to Franco Alfano’s chamber music, stands at the pinnacle of a fortunate synergy between scholarship and performance practice as it indeed combines great discovery, excellent music, and superlative performance.

The two world premiere recordings comprising this disc, Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano (1932) and Sonata for Cello and Piano (1925), were particularly dear to Franco Alfano. A gifted pianist, Alfano participated in the performance of these works as often as he could, searching for refuge in their intimate thoughts in contrast to the magniloquent and omnivorous world of opera in which he also excelled. Resurrezione (1904), La leggenda di Sakuntala (1921), and Cyrano de Bergerac (1936) are titles still in the operatic repertoire. They never fail to marvel audiences and critics alike and then they make listeners wonder about Alfano’s symphonic and chamber music. This recording is aimed at satisfying such curiosity.

Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano begins in the spirit of a new Italian style characterized by severity, formal asceticism, and neo-Renaissance qualities, which Alfano subtly transforms into a melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic language that oscillates between the Iberian harmonic world of Joaquin Turina and the lyrical counterpoint of Ernest Bloch. This concerto, in effect a traditional piano trio, is very approachable in both form and content, making an excellent overture to the following more complex Sonata for Cello and Piano.

This sonata bears at first Ravel’s imprint especially in the tip-toeing, bluesy second movement. However, the piece blossoms into its own full bloodied, passionate development, which concludes with an epilogue of extreme emotional delicacy.

The music heard in this disc is far removed from both verismo opera and the angular modernistic models proposed by Casella and Malipiero. Its essentially cosmopolitan style reminds the listener about tonal patches heard in the works of Turina, Bloch, Delius, Bridge, and Arnold Bax, however, in Alfano’s music there is always a strong creative individuality hidden deep down that only great performers can bring to the fore; such is the great value of this disc.

Pianist Scott Dunn, violinist Elmira Darvarova, and cellist Samuel Magill, who takes the lion’s share of the program, are artists of the first order who have challenged themselves with music of great beauty never recorded before. One would love to hear them perform Alfano’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, the Piano Quintett and his three string quartets.

Naxos deserves great credit for releasing such an exemplary recording.

Franco Sciannameo
College of Fine Arts
Carnegie Mellon University

Posted on 22 Jul 2009, 6:07 AM