31 JULY 2009


The albums below are "Classical Releases Of Current Key Significance," or "CROCKS," if you will. To purchase an album, simply click on one of the Web site retail outlets given in the "AVAILABILTY" table under the write-up.

Alfano, F.: Vn, Vc & Pno Conc, Vc Son; Darvarova/Magill/Dunn [Naxos]
If asked who Naples-born Franco Alfano (1875-1954) was, most knowledgeable classical music lovers would reply that he’s the guy who completed Puccini's (1858-1924)Turandot, and leave it at that! But he was also an extremely well educated man (he studied in Leipzig with Solomon Jadassohn -- see the newsletters of 15 April 2009 and 9 June 2009 ), who was highly regarded as a teacher, and a very talented composer to boot! In fact he wrote several successful operas in addition to a very distinguished body of chamber music, some of which we're treated to here.

The first work on this informatory release is a three-movement piano trio dating from 1932 that Alfano called a concerto, probably because of the virtuosic demands made on each of the soloists. With a neoclassical simplicity similar to that of Pizzetti’s (1880-1968) Concerto dell-estate (1928, see the newsletter of 13 July 2009), the Alfano is in three stylistically diverse movements. The first, which is the longest and lasts almost as long as the last two combined, is an affecting modal rumination with possible religious overtones, and an austerity like that found in sacred Renaissance music.

The next, an allegretto fantastico, features a fetching combination of Basque (see the newsletter of 15 July 2006) as well as Magyar (see the newsletter of 15 July 2006) folk elements, and ends on a mystical note. The final presto, which is the most modern sounding of the three, is celebratory, ending this unusual trio with what could pass for a Roman triumph (see the newsletter of 25 July 2007). Maybe it reflects the pressures being placed on Italian artists by the Fascisti in the 1930s to be patriotic and extol things related to the motherland.

Next up, a sonata for cello and piano that was composed in 1925 on a commission from American music patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (1864-1953). When you hear it you'll have to agree it's right up there with the chamber music written for her by the likes of Béla Bartók (1881-1945), Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975), Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) and Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953). Lasting over half an hour, it's not only a significant but substantial contribution to the cello literature. There's an emotional straightforwardness in keeping with the verismo style of opera that was all the rage at the time, while harmonically speaking, it's linked to the world of Debussy (1862-1918) and Ravel (1875-1937).

Extremely demanding technically, its three movements explore all the cello's tonal facets. The opening lento is impressionistically wistful and seems a nostalgic remembrance of treasured times long gone by. The allegretto that follows is a refreshing change of pace with an oriental exoticism. It lulls the ear into a relaxed state soon to be banished by the anxiety-ridden tragic finale. Be advised that repeated listening is a prerequisite for full appreciation of this emotionally complex piece!

Our soloists here, violinist Elmira Darvarova, cellist Samuel Magill and pianist Scott Dunn are terrific. In addition to being technically gifted, they have the full measure of these two rarely heard, but extremely cultivated Italian finds. One can only hope they'll again join forces in the not too distant future to bring us more of the same. Bravo!

The recordings are superb and deliver a generous virtual soundstage stage that emphasizes the sincerity and emotional depth of this little known chamber music. The instrumental timbre is perfect across the entire frequency spectrum, a fact helped by a warm venue. The recording engineers are to be complimented for using microphones that faithfully captured each of the instruments, and for a setup and final mix that achieved a perfect balance between them.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y090731)
Posted on 8 Aug 2009, 12:19 PM