Garofalo: Romantic Symphony (CD review)

Also, Violin Concerto. Sergei Standler, violin; Joel Spiegelman, New Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.570877.

People didn't just neglect the music of Italian organist and composer Carlo Giorgio Garofalo (1886-1962) in his own lifetime, practically nobody knows him even today. He wrote a ton of sacred compositions, heard in churches and cathedrals throughout Italy in his time but hardly anywhere outside the country and hardly anywhere, period, since. He also wrote quite a lot of secular works as well, like the two pieces on this album, most of them never getting performed, let alone recorded. The present disc aims to help rectify that situation.

Garofalo's Violin Concerto sounds like something written in the nineteenth rather than the twentieth century. It's a throwback to Mendelssohn and Brahms, but without quite the melodic sweep. There is no wonder that either the composer or his publishers probably didn't think the public wanted more of the same when most other composers were pursuing new directions in music. Still, there is a power and grandeur about the Concerto's first movement, and a gypsy feel at times as well. However, while it is charming, to be sure, it's nothing you can fully pin down or grab onto, kind of like elusive wisps of semi-familiar tunes. The same might be said of the serene Andante and the bouncy, up-tempo finale. You'd swear you've heard it all before, and then the thought, like the music, quickly fades from memory. Nevertheless, violinist Sergei Standler, maestro Joel Spiegelman, and the New Moscow Symphony Orchestra (an ensemble brought together in 1999 by the Modern Times Group of Sweden to enhance and support the Scandinavian broadcast company) try their best to do the music justice.

More important, perhaps, is Garofalo's Romantic Symphony, which Spiegelman resurrected and saved from oblivion in 1994 with only its second complete public performance. The first public performance had been almost eighty years earlier. On this disc we find the première recordings of both the Romantic Symphony and the Violin Concerto.

Anyway, the Symphony didn't get its "Romantic" title for nothing. It could well be something by Brahms or Bruckner, although unlike the work of those classic composers, Garofalo's piece is entertaining without being in any way profound or even particularly affecting, despite its vaguely nostalgic tone.

Previous to Spiegelman's championing of the Romantic Symphony, conductors would sometimes play only the Andante and Scherzo from the work. One can understand why. These movements are at the heart of the music, containing some of its most-memorable melodies. The Andante can be especially enchanting in a lush, spacious, highly emotional way. Indeed, the Andante is really the best part of the Symphony: lovely yet dramatic, never too light yet never taking itself too seriously, either (at least not under Spiegelman's direction). It has a haunting quality that makes a listener want to return to it again.

Furthermore, one can understand from listening to the Scherzo why his rival, Ottorino Respighi, may have tried to repress Garofalo's music. There are certain similar, descriptive, tone-poem characteristics to it that may have worried the more-famous composer. The Romantic Symphony ends by allowing every instrument of the orchestra to have its day in a rather melodramatic but gripping fashion, finishing up as it began, in the loftiest possible manner. This is big-scale music that isn't afraid to let it be known.

Originally recorded by MTG in 1999 and released on the Marco Polo label, the music now comes to us on a newly reissued, low-priced Naxos CD. The sound is squarely in the Naxos tradition, too, being perfectly serviceable, moderately distanced, with a somewhat soft overall response. Not that there is anything wrong with the dynamics, impact, or clarity; there's just nothing about the sonics that cries out as good enough to be audiophile material or bad enough not to be satisfying. In the Romantic Symphony in particular the acoustic setting is deeper and the sound more realistically spread out than in the Violin Concerto, although both works are pleasantly listenable.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa