Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) must be the only composer who is well known due to his supposed mediocrity. However, the popular view of Salieri is the result of his mad ravings shortly before his death, and a myth created by Pushkin in the 1820s. It was in the interests of the nationalist politics of the time to portray Mozart as an unsurpassable native genius, and Salieri as the crude, hackneyed Italian outsider. This highly questionable view has been popularised in recent years by Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus, and the film based on it. It is important to put these irrational prejudices aside, when we consider Salieri's music. We must forget that Salieri had a considerable influence over the next generation of composers - probably greater than that of Mozart - as he taught Beethoven, Czerny, Hummel, Liszt, Meyerbeer, Moscheles and Schubert, to name but a few. This CD is representative of his orchestral works. The overtures possess nobility and grace, and can be stirring at times. They often include some delightful passages for the wind section, once the initial storm has passed (a whole CD of Salieri's overtures is available on the Naxos label). The twenty-six variations on 'la folia di Spagna' is a fascinating piece. It is remarkable to hear an interpretation of this 16th century melody from the perspective of Viennese classicism. It is a late work, from 1815, and shows Salieri at the peak of his creative powers. Every possible avenue of variation is explored, each giving a new perspective on the simple melody, and introducing some interesting orchestral textures. As a whole, it has an immense power, and an almost Beethoven-like majesty. Salieri was not a symphonist, like Mozart or Haydn, but the few symphonies he did write possess his characteristic vivacity and originality. The slow movement of the 'Sinfonia Veneziana' is quite affecting, whilst the slow movement of 'Il giorno onomastico' is an exercise in simple elegance, with a wonderful effect created by a sequence of triplets. Listening to this CD should hopefully convince the listener that Salieri was a great composer, who was capable of far more than we are led to believe. We owe it to his memory to reject the malicious rumours that have overshadowed his fine compositions for too long.
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