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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Shamefully Neglected Composer, 6 Jan 2013
J Scott Morrison (Middlebury VT, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Sgambati: Symphony No. 1 (Cola Di Rienzo Overture) (Francesco La Vecchia/ Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma) (Naxos: 8573007) (Audio CD)
Over the years I've discovered composers who have been neglected unjustly and I have become obsessed with them and their music; Wilhelm Stenhammar was such a one. Well, here's a new one for me. I'd heard Sgambati's name as an Italian who didn't write operas (like Martucci) but I swear I'd never heard a note of his music. So, I gave this one a try and truthfully was gobsmacked by the beauty of the music. Giovanni Sgambati (1841-1914) wrote mostly instrumental music -- symphonies, chamber music -- and one Requiem Mass. This was highly unusual in mid-19th century Italy where opera was king; for instance, the first performance in Italy of Beethoven's 'Eroica' Symphony was in 1867 a full 62 years after its premiere! And Sgambati was its conductor. His music was praised by Wagner and Liszt. But as far as I know it sank without a trace, at least outside Italy. This recording of his first symphony and of an early overture is music of unfailing beauty, impeccable craft and discernible personality.

The CD starts with a work from 1866, the Cola di Rienzo Overture, which was never performed and whose manuscript was only recently discovered in a Rome library. It is simply gorgeous. The work presents a fecundity of music ideas which Sgambati was perhaps not able to control adequately formally, but it is highly melodic and emotionally moving. In particular one notes in some sections a touching serenity that one hears again in the Symphony.

The first of Sgambati's two symphonies was written in the mid-1880s and although there is much that sounds Germanic, especially as to formal working of the musical materials, the melodies are often recognizably Italianate, with long cantilenas and phrases that reflect Italian prosody. The work is in five movements: fast-slow-fast-slow-fast. And it brims with hummable melodies. The orchestration is masterly, especially in the middle movement, the Scherzo, which in places sounds a bit like Berlioz. But it is the slow movements where Sgambati really shines. This is music that sticks in one's aural memory.

Francesco La Vecchia, the conductor who has already recorded much of Martucci's music, e.g. Martucci: Orchestral Music Vol.1, does us a real favor by bringing us these luscious scores. I can only hope that we will get a recording of more of Sgambati's orchestral music in the not-too-distant future.

Heartily, even urgently, recommended.

Scott Morrison
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