The big piece on this CD is the Second Piano Concerto by Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909), a late Romantic Italian composer who primarily wrote orchestral music rather than opera. I'd never heard any of these pieces before, although I know that it has all been recorded before in the series of performances of Martucci's orchestral works conducted by Francesco D'Avalos, who specialized in this composer's music. And I knew that Toscanini championed the work and once conducted it with Horszowski at the keyboard. Martucci was a virtuoso pianist and he wrote this concerto for himself premiering it in 1885. But he was primarily a composer and conductor, as well as being an important Italian pedagogue. He championed the works of Brahms in Italy and indeed conducted the Italian premiere of Brahms's Second Symphony. I mention this because the first movement of the Second Concerto was almost certainly modeled on the first movement of Brahms's First Piano Concerto. It is dramatic, and although the piano part is virtuosic, the piano is often part of the orchestral fabric. The movement's second theme is particularly attractive. A most satisfying movement. But even more so is the lovely Larghetto second movement which contains a limpid and lovely main theme and has a middle section with rich string chords accompanying the solo piano. The big surprise, though, is the finale which is Haydnesque in its humor. This is not to say it sounds like Haydn, but rather that is has an impish, winking humor that puts one in mind of the great Austrian. I found myself laughing out loud several times. The excellent pianist here is a very young Italian, Gesualdo Coggi, and the conductor, Francesco La Vecchia and his Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma give him marvelous support.
The rest of the CD comprises Martucci's orchestrations of a number of his piano pieces, one of them for string orchestra (Momento musicale e Minuetto), the rest (Novelletta, Serenata and Colore Orientale) for full orchestra. The string orchestra piece is lyrical and serene. The others sound Italian in their use of forms (siciliana, barcarolla, marcia) so often heard in music of that country. And although Colore Orientale is faux-Turkish, it sounds a little like Respighi's later 'oriental' music, i.e., Italian through and through.
A worthwhile issue.