on 8 November 2010
Casella isn't as well known as Respighi even though, as a contemporary of his, he produced a significant output of quite weighty music. Like Respighi and other Italian composers, Casella's association with Mussolini was not somethin to be proud of. Like Respighi, Casella's neo baroque / classical works attempt to recreate Italy's glorious cultural past for less than honourable reasons. Casella had to flee the regime when Hitler's anti semiticism became policy in Italy too. He survived the war but was tarnished by his associatiion with the regime. Respighi was "lucky" enough to die much earlier and his association with the regime was forgotten. Casella's music, fell under a cloud after the war. Now, at last, we're getting to hear the music and it's very good.
"Notte di Maggio", written shortly after the Rite of Spring, is a sumptuous piece of late romanticism meets, impressionism meets Rite of Spring with a hint of Scriabin. The subject matter and mood is very close to Szymanowski's Symphony no 3 "Song of the Night" though a touch lighter and less mystical. It was written before the Szymanowski so Casella deserves some credit there. Although he thought highly of the piece it is, not surpringly, a little too derivative. It's a fine piece to wallow in though so it's an enjoyable listen.
The Cello Concerto surprised me. Dating from the 1930's it comes from Casella's neo classical period and immediately shows the drive and chromaticism familiar in Shostakovich's much later First Cello Concerto. Although Casella consciously wanted to reflect Italian baroque models this is a far from dry or academic work. After the initial burst the music melts into some ardent romantic lyricism followed by a more energetic allegro music into the final section that Casella likened to the Flight of the Bumblebee. For such an unfamiliar piece competing with so many other neo classical works of that time it really holds its own and has a distinctive voice. This deserves to be a repertory piece and be heard far more often. What a confident and concise concerto this is.
"Scarlattiana" follows on the neo classical / baroque theme derviing from material by Scarlatti. Consciously following Stravinsky's veritable takeover of Pergolesi's music in Pulcinella, the music is very much Casella's. He swaps the vocal soloists of Pulcinella for a piano but it is far from being a full blown piano concerto. Lasting not short of 30 minutes, it is no mere trifle. Not surprisngly, immediately attractive - with the inital piano entry sounding like the theme tune from "Murder She Wrote". It would make an ideal cd coupling with Pulcinella, again having a strong Italian flavour to it. I've only ever seen one disc that couples them together.
These performances and the recorded sound from Naxos are good so at a bargain price this is a real find. Naxos have recorded his first two symphonies and I eagerly await their recording of the third. In short, having seemingly disappeared from view for decades, there is now plenty of great Casella music to explore. Congratulations to Naxos on another innovative series. Snap this up; Casella may not be Premier league but he's pushing for promotion.