On this side of the Atlantic, at least, Riccardo Zandonai (1883-1944) is a one-hit composer, namely for his opera 'Francesca da Rimini.' He was indeed primarily an operatic composer of the late verismo, following in the footsteps of Puccini and Mascagni; he studied with the latter. He wrote non-operatic works primarily, one is told, to fill the time between operatic projects. The two works included here are the Violin Concerto subtitled 'Romantico' (1919) and 'Paintings of Segantini' (1931).
The violin concerto, in the usual three movements, is a rather crude work whose orchestration seems, except in the Adagio middle movement, to be punchy and almost a caricature. The ensemble in this recording, a provincial orchestra from Zandonai's northern Italian Trentino region (in the southern Tyrol), is a bit rough and tumble and that doesn't help the overall impression. Further, the soloist, Stefano Zanchetta, has a small, somewhat acidulous tone. Not a distinguished work nor performance.
Far better are the later 'Quadri di Segantini.' Giovanni Segantini (1858-1899) was an impressionist painter from the Tyrol whose pictures of mountains and peasants have drawn a certain admiration over the succeeding century. There is a Segantini Museum in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Zandonai chose four of the pictures to paint in sound: 'L'Aratura' ('Plowing'), 'Idillio' ('Idyl'), 'Ritorno al paese natio' ('Return to the Birthplace') and 'Meriggio' ('Noon'). Reminiscent in intent of Respighi's 'Pines and Fountains of Rome', the tone poems depict rather nicely the four scenes. (The striking 'L'Aratura' is reproduced beautifully on the cover of the CD's booklet.) Most appealing for me are the last two pieces. 'Ritorno al paese natio' depicts 'a cart slowly driving across the wide plateau, taking back the one who died far away and returns forever.' Impressionistic smears of harmony, using frequent tritones, convey the sadness and inevitability of the procession. 'Meriggio' is a wash of bright orchestral colors calling to mind similar instrumental technique heard in Respighi's 'Pines of the Villa Borghese.' Zandonai has a rather weak gift for melody in this set, alas, and most of the interest in 'Quadri' is in orchestration.
This issue is only for those who are Zandonai completists or those who wish to acquaint themselves with the orchestral works of Italian opera composers. By the time Zandonai came along, though, some Italian composers - like Pizzetti, Casella and Respighi - had specialized in orchestral music and had written more memorable works.