Reviews
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FRANCO ALFANO

CONCERTO FOR VIOLIN, CELLO AND PIANO
SONATA FOR CELLO AND PIANO
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
07/19/09

Posted on 22 Jul 2009, 6:07 AM
opossum
Fascinating music, brilliantly performed
Review By RW67639,July 2009

Posted at classicsonline.com on July 13, 2009

Franco Alfano's music is presently enjoying a worldwide revival in the concert halls, as well as on opera stages, such as the Metropolitan Opera, where his opera Cyrano de Bergerac was recently performed, starring Placido Doming in the title role.

The Cello Sonata and the Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano are fascinating chamber works in which Franco Alfano presents an extreme emotional amplitude and deeply lyrical moments, alternating with high drama, nostalgic serenity and exotic folk dances.

Composed in 1925, the technically demanding Cello Sonata explores the entire tonal range of the instrument, establishing a verismo style atmosphere while employing harmonies closer to Ravel or Debussy. Gentle lullaby co-exists with turbulence, and the agony of deeply personal statements is profoundly felt throughout.

The 1932 Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano, actually a piano trio, is a sparkling amalgam of extreme virtuosity and gentle lyricism, spiced up with agitated folk dances. The last movements of both works are firmly rooted in twentieth-century techniques, evoking the Prokofiev/Bartok orbit.

These truly fascinating chamber works are recorded for the first time by violinist Elmira Darvarova, cellist Samuel Magill and pianist Scott Dunn, in brilliant renditions which leave the listener breathless and deeply moved by the dramatic story-telling and the heart-rending elegy. The virtuoso elements intertwine vigorous excitement with languorous love duets in an extremely wide range of colors and styles. With gorgeously rich tone and employing a wide variety of vibrato speeds and inflections, the violinist and the cellist maintain their impeccable intonation throughout, interweaving their shifts and slides to match one another in their highly charged dialogue. The pianist's mesmerizing fluidity and fervor translate in a highly elaborate and architecturally accomplished interpretation. Truly magnificent performances of Alfano's fascinating chamber works !
Posted on 22 Jul 2009, 6:12 AM
delphinium
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 Amazon.co.uk 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
ragloc@gmail.com








Posted on 22 Jul 2009, 6:30 AM
elmiradarvarova
CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
(CLOFO)

FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS



31 JULY 2009

CROCKS NEWSLETTER

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Alfano, F.: Vn, Vc & Pno Conc, Vc Son; Darvarova/Magill/Dunn [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
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 (CLOFO.com, Y090731)
Posted on 8 Aug 2009, 12:19 PM
tootall
The STRAD, November 2009

ALFANO Concerto for violin, cello & piano, Cello Sonata

Elmira Darvarova (violin) Samuel Magill (cello) Scott Dunn (piano)

NAXOS 8.570928

Franco Alfano (1875-1954) composed a large number of piano and orchestral pieces, several operas (including a Cyrano de Bergerac) and a number of major chamber works, including three string quartets. Yet despite his considerable prowess as a composer in his own right, he is still principally remembered as the man who completed Puccini's final opera, Turandot.
Listening to these hauntingly beautiful scores it seems barely credible that Alfano's music could have fallen into such unwarranted neglect. Middle-period Ravel would appear to be the Italian's stylistic launch pad, most unmistakably in the laid-back central movements of both the Cello Sonata and triple chamber concerto, although the music's passing modal inflections owe at least as much to the epic 'ancient' style of Respighi and (rather later) Rózsa.
Pianophiles will no doubt already be familiar with Scott Dunn's outstanding Naxos recordings of Foss and Duke, while long-time Metropolitan Opera principals Elmira Darvarova and Samuel Magill sound no less captivated by these expertly written scores. Darvarova produces a silky-smooth, voluptuous sound ideal for the concerto's meticulous opulence, while Magill's husky, dark timbre matches the Cello Sonata's yearning intensity to perfection. The discreetly balanced studio recording allows the players' impassioned advocacy full rein without resorting to sonic spotlighting.

JULIAN HAYLOCK
Posted on 27 Oct 2009, 5:45 AM
InstantEncore