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ClassicsOnline Home » MESSINA: Beffa a Don Chisciotte Suite (La) / ROTA: Concerto for Strings / PESSINA: Concertango
By Marco del Vaglio
Italian Classical Music between past and present in a new Naxos CD.
This most recent Naxos CD, where the composers, the orchestra, and the conductor are all Italian, represents, from our point of view, a small miracle.
Three works are recorded, beginning with the suite from La Beffa a Don Quixote (The mockery of Don Quixote), an unfinished work by the Sicilian composer Salvatore Messina (1876- 1930), in a transcription for string orchestra by the young Milanese composer Paolo Pessina (b. 1969).
This is an interesting recovery project, directed towards one of the numerous authors who were active in a period, between the two world wars, that today is still unnoticed. Moreover, because of Messina�s premature passing, which occurred in 1930, his name was soon forgotten, despite of the fame he had acquired during his life.
We cannot discern, in the suite, what must be attributed to Messina, and what, instead, comes exclusively from Pessina�s hand. In any case, from what we can intuitively grasp, the music of Messina seems to be still very linked to melodrama, with some peaks of modernity, though always very moderate, which recall the great works of Casella, (another name that was banned for political reasons).
The second piece on the CD, the Concerto for Strings by Nino Rota (1911- 1979), certainly a more well known musical figure, though less performed recently. The great Milanese composer has been the victim of prejudices, because many claim that those who write film music cannot be considered true composers, and accuse even his non-cinematic works of a certain superficiality�.
Before casting any further judgment, we invite every listener to become more informed about various composers, both Italian and from other countries, such as Rustichelli, Nicolai, Trovajoli, Korngold, and Steiner (just to name a few), who have lent their musical genius to cinema.
Without further discussion, let us move on to the Concertango, Op. 55, by Paolo Pessina, the last of the three works on the Naxos CD. Here the young composer presents a piece where both the classic and modern are present, with the baroque concerto grosso juxtaposed with Argentine tango (and a rhythm that swings from ragtime to gypsy sounds in the last-but-one movement). In the end, the modern prevails over the antique, but without destroying it, even if in the final movement (Finaltango) one can discern the sinister echoes of the Dies Irae.
The overall result is surprising and grants a sensation of a balanced modernity, also because the author never drifts into atonality, always following a melodic discourse.
Also worth mentioning are the soloists of the Orchestra Sinfonica Adriatica, a group founded and directed by Paolo Pessina, who demonstrate great unity, cohesiveness, and a rich sound, characteristics that only great ensembles possess.
In addition, the abilities of the concertmaster must be applauded, who, in the Concertango, displays his virtuosic talents.
This is a CD of the highest level, which honors Italian classical music, which we hope will not remain an isolated instance, and will push Naxos on to further projects.
� by Marco del Vaglio (Agire, December 17, 2006)
20th Century Italian String Music
Salvatore MESSINA (1876-1930): La Beffa a Don Chisciotte (1926-30)
— Transcription in the form of a Suite for String Orchestra by Paolo Pessina (2000)
Nino ROTA (1911-1979): Concerto per archi (original version 1964-65)
Paolo PESSINA (b.1969): Concertango Op. 55 (2001)
Salvatore Messina composed the opera La beffa a Don Chisciotte, with a libretto by Ettore Romagnoli, between 1926 and 1930. The composer's untimely death did not allow him to complete the orchestration of the score. For this reason the opera, already selected as the winning composition of the competition announced in 1929 by the Rome Royal Opera House, could not be awarded the first prize by the jury, at that time chaired by Pietro Mascagni. With this work Salvatore Messina ended his successful career both as composer and conductor, from the Bolshoy Theatre in Moscow to the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. His place in musical life at the beginning of the twentieth century is witnessed by the esteem he enjoyed among the musicians of his time such as Umberto Giordano, Gino Marinuzzi, and Franco Alfano, and by his collaboration with the music publisher Ricordi. His works were also valued by Jules Massenet, Giacomo Puccini, and Richard Strauss, and by writers, among others Maeterlinck and Tagore, some of whose verses he also set to music for voice and piano. The revival and promotion of music by this Sicilian master now offers the opportunity to evaluate once again an important part of Italian musical heritage. This recording is also meant to fill a vacuum in the history of music and to rescue a delightful opera from oblivion. This disc contains excerpts from the opera, which I have transcribed to form an instrumental suite.
For the first movement, Andantino mosso, I have selected the passionate Spanish-style love-song of Pedrillo, "Una rosa ti lanciai". The suite continues with my instrumental arrangement of the aria "Io tornai soletto a casa", Andantino affettuoso, and then with the duet between Pedrillo and Manuela, "La Madonna è tanto buona", Act I, Scene 2 of the original opera, marked Con Passione-Moderato, emphasizing the contrasting temperaments of the two characters. The fourth movement of the suite is more than an arrangement: with three themes taken from Scenes 6 and 7, I have composed an extended Scherzo. The fifth movement, Adagio, is a pure arrangement of the scene "O Dulcinea!" where Don Quixote addresses his beloved, unaware of the joke being played on him (Act II, Scene 2). The sixth movement originates from the Pantomima and ballet that opens the second act. The seventh and last movement, Finale, is the final part of Scene 8, "…e apparirà con loro", which also ends the whole opera in Messina's original score.
Born in 1911 in Milan to a musical family, Nino Rota was as a child perceived to have prodigious musical ability. Composer, pianist, conductor and musicologist, he established himself as the leading figure in Italian film music. During his career he produced more than 150 soundtracks, in addition to many other works not expressly associated with the cinema.
The Concerto for Strings, composed between 1964-65, making considerable use of chromaticism both in melody and harmony, is in four movements, thematically interconnected, as in cyclical form. It opens with a Prelude that is moderately restless and nostalgic with a second contrasting, rhythmical and expressive section. The Scherzo, with two solo sections, exploits the ambiguity of a ternary theme with binary accents. The Aria begins softly and dreamily before increasing in emotional intensity in the middle section. The initial descending bass accompaniment is a clear tribute to the well-known Air from Bach's Orchestral Suite No.3 in D major, the so-called Air on the G string. The Finale, Allegrissimo, calls for precise and brilliant playing from the whole string section. In conclusion the remark of Fellini may be quoted, on the death of his friend Nino Rota: "… he has just disappeared, he has not died …"
Concertango originates from the idea of combining the baroque form of the concerto grosso, characterized by the alternation of solos and tutti, with the typical rhythms and sounds of the Argentinian dance. At first it may appear both anachronistic and paradoxical to force these two together. Instead, I firmly believe that in both genres we can find contact points, easily recognisable when you listen to this music. The use of ostinato, largely employed by eighteenth-century composers, is now enjoying new popularity, perhaps because it reproduces the repetitive automatism of modern life, or for the great need of continuity and stability particularly felt in our global and still fragmented society. The Intro(duction) Misterioso juxtaposes a free melody of the first violins with a basso ostinato played pizzicato by the cellos and double basses on a steady underlay of semiquavers. The ghosts of two tutelary deities of eighteenth-century music flutter in the second movement. A sort of first Tempo di Concerto grosso ended by a fugato, written in the manner of a modern Vivaldi and Bach respectively. The following Premiertango is the first piece that openly reflects the nostalgia of the Latin-American dance. The central movement Amortango is linked to the preceding one through the explicit rhythms of the accompaniment, its emotional impact and the introduction of the solo violin, which is then repeated by all the strings. Intermezzo italiano is meant to give the whole composition an unlimited geographical connotation. Through this music and the following Tangonero-Maladie, I have intended to affirm the universality of the soul of Tango, which permeates also gypsy music (hence the natural fusion with the gypsy mood of the last piece but one). Finaltango, introduced by a solemn and recitative section, leads to a long ostinato where the variations are set free through the syncopated, expressive and passionate high sections of the strings, always alternating solo and tutti, as already exposed at the beginning, and in the title. To summarise, I have written music that I would have liked to listen to, music which is dedicated to people like me who are enthusiastic about life, love the almost tragic and passionate soul of Tango and, at the same time, are able to play (not only music) without excess, a characteristic of the Baroque, or perhaps of the universal man …
English version by Ilde Weffort
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