ON ECLIPSES AND SLEUTHING - music of Franco Alfano, 21 Jul 2009
By Ralph Lockwood "Professor of Music Emeritus -... (Phoenix, AZ. USA) - See all my reviews

Posted on on July 21, 2009

ON ECLIPSES AND SLEUTHING: music of Franco Alfano [Naxos 8.570928]

The dark side of the moon of my musical knowledge - "luna incognita" - was brought into lush audibility and relief by the premiere recording ( presented by Naxos) of very captivating music by Franco Alfano (1875-1954).
Featuring an elegantly expressive and superbly matched ensemble of eloquent artists.
Now that the "eclipse" ( at least in my consciousness - perhaps in the world of music's as well) of the Naples-born Alfano is ended, my own sleuthing for more of his music will gleefully begin, aided immeasurably by the excellent liner notes by Samuel Magill.
Musical sleuthing is a time honored profession; think Groves' unearthing of Schubert's 9th symphony, and Mendelssohn's resuscitation of J. S. Bach's oeuvre. Now, NAXOS and Samuel Magill bring us to a new appreciation of a magnificent Italian colorist who bridged the last two centuries.

In general, Alfano's music touched many resonances for me. It is full blooded, sanguine, direct and appealing, like a mature Chianti - not too sweet, but with no raw or rough unfinished overtones. It is too facile, and perhaps fatuous, to dismiss Alfano's music as "derivative;" despite many antecedents ( and what composer has no roots?) he succeeds in finding his own voice - unique, with a style all his own. I found myself smiling and nodding at the ripe logic of his musical gestures and turns of phrase. Sometimes playful, sometimes serene, plaintive, passionate, wistful but NEVER anodyne.

The CD opens with the Concerto for violin, violoncello and piano from 1932. If this Trio of performers is an ad hoc ensemble, their burnished amalgam of real communication demonstrated the kind of seasoned naturalness that only time, like-mindedness, and much rehearsal can develop. Surely Santa Cecilia has blessed them herself, and the undertaking of un-eclipsing Alfano.
Ms. Darvarova and Mr. Magill share the same bowing incipit and rich-toned singing quality. Equal partners in stylistic unity, they match phrase by phrase and spin the kind of web of emotive variety that makes for real magic.
Scott Dunn sings, too, at the keyboard (not an easy thing to accomplish!), and brings rare sensitivity and a real understanding of how to balance without over, or under playing. Their collaboration is a true tripartitenership! ( what's a neologism between friends)! Surely these musicians ARE friends, and they LIKE Alfano's music. It shows, glows, and convinces me.

The earlier (1925) Sonata for Violoncello and piano is a "major" masterpiece from, a soon-to-be-less "minor" composer. A gift to ( virtuoso) cellists; this Sonata has it all, and Mr. Magill gives it his all.
Sumptuously played with unerring instinct for variety and tonal warmth from sobs to laughs, Alfano gives the cello and piano
(Alfano's instrument) a magnificent opportunity to demonstrate all that they can encompass. Played by Messrs. Magill and Dunn, this Sonata was a revelation. May it give rise to a rebirth in interest in Franco Alfano,
and my sincere hope is that many more will listen and rediscover this somewhat eclipsed master.
This CD is a winner on all counts, so thanks to Naxos for ending the eclipse, and let the sleuthing for more Alfano continue apace.

Ralph Lockwood

Ralph Lockwood
Professor of music Emeritus
School of Music
Arizona State University

Posted on 22 Jul 2009, 6:30 AM