Sgambati: Symphony No. 1 (CD review)

Also, Cola di Rienzo Overture. Francesco La Vecchia, Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma. Naxos 8.573007.

For more adventurous listeners (who don’t want to spend too much money to pursue their musical escapades), Naxos gives us some music by eighteenth-century Italian composer Giovanni Sgambati (1841-1914). Or maybe I should say Maestro Francesco La Vecchia gives us the music, as he seems determined to resurrect the tunes of as many obscure Italian composers as possible. In any case, you might find something of interest in Sgambati’s Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 16, and, who knows, if enough people show interest, maybe Naxos and La Vecchia will provide more of the man’s music.

As I say, La Vecchia has done this sort of thing before, taking nineteenth and twentieth-century Italian composers who made a mark in their own day and then became largely forgotten and recording their music for twenty-first-century listeners. The names of Alfredo Casella, Giuseppe Martucci, and Gian Francisco Malipiero come to mind because La Vecchia did a whole series of Naxos albums recording these men’s work. Maybe La Vecchia just has a soft spot in his heart for underdogs.

Anyway, here the conductor offers up two pieces by Sgambati, an overture and a symphony.  Appropriately, the program begins with an overture, Cola di Rienzo, which the composer based on the same poem by Pietro Cossa that had earlier inspired Wagner. Sgambati apparently wrote his overture as part of some incidental music for the poem, but he never published the music in his lifetime, and it subsequently disappeared until just recently. This may be its première recording; however, perhaps in a bit of modestly, the Naxos notes don’t say anything about it. Whatever, the overture is fairly long at over eighteen minutes and made up of a string of individual, stand-alone segments that proceed in a rather dour, solemn pace, with hints of the aforementioned Wagner in the background. It becomes more colorful as it goes along and, thanks to La Vecchia, more dramatic, too.

The centerpiece of the album is the Symphony No. 1, a five-movement affair consisting of a lively Allegro vivace; a dark Andante mesto; a cheerfully spirited Scherzo: Presto; a lovely and imaginative Serenata: Andante; and an elaborately embroidered Finale: Allegro con fuoco. Every section is melodious and rhapsodic, although it’s hard to discern any particular thematic centers to it nor remember much of it afterwards. While people like Toscanini and Wagner were fond of it (Wagner calling the composer “a true, great and original talent”), one can see why it never endured beyond its years. It’s all quite Romantic in style, with traces of Wagner again, Beethoven, Liszt and so on, even hints of Mendelssohn. Yet even though all of it is most pleasant, especially given La Vecchia’s loving attention, there is not a lot to take away from it nor a lot to draw one back.

Naxos recorded La Vecchia and his orchestra in the Auditorium di Via Conciliazione, Rome, in 2011. The sound they obtained is very smooth, warm, and soft, typical of many Naxos recordings. One can hardly fault it, yet it never seems to carry the weight, clarity, or dynamics of an audiophile recording. The sonics exhibit decent orchestral depth, though, and a sweet hall resonance.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


1 comment:

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.

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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