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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine contrapuntal symphony showing the "influence" of Sibelius., 7 Oct 2011
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This review is from: Martucci: Symphony No.2 (Audio CD)
Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909) was one of only two important late Romantic Italian composers who concentrated on symphonic rather than operatic music. (The other was Giovanni Sgambati.) The Second Symphony was premiered in 1904 and is his masterpiece. It dates, then, from the same year as "Madama Butterfly". Don't, however, expect to hear something which sounds like a Puccini opera but without the voices. Martucci's style could hardly be more different.

The blurb on the back of the jewel case suggests that the symphony draws on Martucci's "abiding love of Brahms and Schumann" but they are not the most dominant influences and, with respect to my fellow reviewer, I also hear very little of Debussy and even less of Ravel. Even though the notes which come with this disc fail to mention him, the main parallel, in the first movement at least, is quite definitely with Sibelius. (I'm reluctant to use the word "influence" because Sibelius was nine years younger than Martucci. I don't know to what extent Sibelius' music was known in Italy at the time but, as a conductor, Martucci expanded the repertoire considerably so it seems reasonable to assume that he was familiar with the music of his great Finnish contemporary.) Above all, the way in which the brass gradually come to dominate the texture, driving home tonic harmonies while the upper winds sail above and the strings are relegated to an accompanying murmur, is very Sibelian.

On the evidence of the Second Symphony, Martucci was a true symphonist. Like Sgambati, he thought in long paragraphs. There is a real sense of organic growth to the music, Martucci blurring the division between first and second subjects. The music is often strongly contrapuntal. Just as in a Sibelius symphony, there is no introduction. The leaping octave at the beginning is to feature prominently. Immediately afterwards the bassoon states the main idea which is extended by the flute. At 1 min 8 secs, the strings repeat the melody and a very Sibelian climax ensues. The second subject material is then heard, firstly on the wind and then flowering on the strings. A passage dominated by iambic rhythms leads to an exact repeat of the exposition beginning at 3 mins 52 secs. After a development section built on a string figure from the exposition, the second subject and the rising octave figure, the recapitulation sneaks in at 10 mins 16 secs. There is a coda based on the main theme and the iambic passage. The rising octave has the last word.

Just as the first movement is in a fairly standard sonata form, so the scherzo is the usual ternary structure. However, the music maintains its momentum and mood throughout. The middle section, led by the clarinet at 2 mins 22 secs, is not, then, the usual contrasting trio. You won't fail to notice the return of the opening section. The music flits by, motivic rather than melodic, continuously inventive. This movement's distant ancestors are, of course, Mendelssohn's scherzi.

The slow movement is rather different in style and you may feel that it sits uneasily with the rest of the symphony. In its lyricism it does, however, provide an effective foil for the scherzo. It begins at once with a lovely, though somewhat elusive, string melody. This is repeated. The second theme is a clarinet arabesque which is then taken up by the strings. After a climactic passage based on the first theme, the dramatic development section is built largely on the second theme. The brass are well to the fore. The opening melody returns at 8 mins 33 secs and the movement comes to a peaceful conclusion as it refers to the second theme.

The finale is another contrapuntal tour-de-force. There is, however, a contrasting lyrical string tune. At 2 mins 39 secs a fugato, complete with stretti, begins. An elaborate coda, which at one point stops dead in its tracks, brings this exhilarating movement to a close.

Because it is, on the whole, motivic rather than melodic and because it is so contrapuntal, this symphony is not an easy listen and you will have to persevere. However, it is a most impressive and fascinating work which I urge you to investigate. This is a fine performance which has been well, if somewhat closely, recorded. In general, the old recording on ASV conducted by D'Avalos is a little fleeter of foot and the sound, though not ideal, is more alluring. On the other hand, more detail is captured on the Naxos disc and the orchestra sounds better rehearsed. You can't go wrong with either recording then.

The Naxos disc also includes the "Theme and Variations" for piano and orchestra. After the contrapuntal wizardry of the symphony, this seems like a very conventional work indeed. The theme is plain and most of the variations stick closely to it. The highlight is a Chopinesque revelry, Variation 8. You won't find it difficult to imagine a more sensitive performance of this variation than the one it receives here, however.

The disc concludes with two orchestrations of piano pieces, a "Gavotta" and a "Tarentella". The "Gavotta" is a standard ternary structure. It's moderately attractive and there is a little contrapuntal stiffening in the manner of the finale of the symphony. The "Tarantella" is, as you'd expect, an exciting virtuoso work. It is another ternary structure. Both these pieces are well performed but the recording is again just a bit too close for comfort.

This is not a flawless disc, then, but, whatever you do, don't miss the symphony.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Undiscovered Wonders!, 20 Dec 2009
This review is from: Martucci: Symphony No.2 (Audio CD)
Although it is always invidious to talk about a lost/overlooked genius,I think we can safely say that Gieuseppe Martucci ( 1856 ~ 1909) is such a composer.
Overshadowed (at the start) by Verdi and (at the latter end of his life) by Puccini,Martucci seems (till now) to have disappeared.
Hopefully these excellent 4 discs from Naxos will change his status.
Although the composers I have already mentione overshadowed him,his music was not generally like theirs.
If can imagine an Italian Debussy or Ravel, you will be nearer the sound of his music.
Lyrical and full of changing orchestral colours,impassioned as only an Italian composer can be his music speaks directly to you,it is not in the least obscure or esoteric.
If you want to discover a whole new landscape of sound and colour,then you cannot go wrong in this collection from Naxos,especially at their budget price.
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Martucci: Symphony No.2
Martucci: Symphony No.2 by Orc Sinf Di Roma (Audio CD - 2009)
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