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Casella's Time Has Come At Last,
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This review is from: Casella: Orchestral Works [Gianandrea Noseda, BBC Philharmonic] [Chandos: CHAN 10768] (Audio CD)
These are bountiful times for the recording of Alfredo Casella's music: about time too; largely neglected since his death, in part due to his sympathy for Mussolini's regime. Arguably he was the greatest Italian composer of his time with a far more impressive body of work, waiting to be discovered, than Respighi.
Now his music is being rediscovered and we even have the luxury of choice between recordings of his finest works. Chandos have been releasing recordings of his Symphonies and other orchestral work at the same time as Naxos. You might want to choose one or the other but both bring different facets worth getting to know. To put it very crudely and make a sweeping generalisation; La Vecchia on Naxos produces weighty interpretations that bring out the disparate stylistic influences whilst Noseda on Chandos tends to be more spritely and coherent, benefitting too from the excellent Chandos sound engineering.
The main work here is arguably Casella's greatest symphony, the Third and my sweeping generalisation is relevant here. The symphony is a summation of his development and its reference points and influences are many. By this stage of his career, Casella, who had passed through several musical styles, had settled on a generally neo-classical/baroque style that in part reflected his research into early Italian music and his wish to keep up with musical fashion. It reflected too the strong influences of Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Hindemith and, perhaps most surprisingly, Mahler. Indeed for all his stylistic changes Mahler was musical love of his life. The marching theme of the finale here is quoted directly from his Resurrection Symphony. It also appears as a meltingly yearning lyrical theme in the slow movement and the finale. To me, this music most closely resembles mature Prokofiev where neo classicism is balanced by a sweet lyrical melodic gift.
These influences are more clearly highlighted in La Vecchia's Naxos recording but the more breezy, though by no means rushed, approach by Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic compensates by emphasises the symphonic architecture and doesn't allow the finale's long fugal section to sound empty or academic. Casella did make the finale a little over complicated but Noseda eases out some of the awkward twists to leave a more convincing whole.
Like all the Chandos recordings, the recorded sound is top class and the BBC Philharmonic do the music proud. Another consideration is the couplings on the two recordings. The Naxos recording couples the Symphony with the Heroic Elegy for the fallen Italian soldiers of World War I. It's daring harmonies and near expressionism didn't endear it to its first audiences but it is a substantial piece. It is a very striking and intense piece: arguably more powerful than the symphony even though it's just the filler piece. It is still a work worth getting to know. Chandos gives us much lighter fare as couplings that provide a gentler introduction to the Symphony. The Italia Suite ends with a flourish with its finale based on the popular "Faniculi Fanicula". The later introduction and March is a short but darker piece closer in style to the Symphony.
I haven't even mentioned that CPO also recorded the symphony, coupled with "Italia" under Alun Francis. I've not heard it but reviews have been very favourable for that too. So there you are: spoilt for choice with the greatest Italian symphony of the twentieth century. This Chandos recording gets an unreserved five stars but you'll see I gave five to La Vecchia on Naxos and that was fair too. If your budget allows why not try all three.