Revolting Pasta

One does not usually associate Italy in the last century with the symphony as a musical form. Ottorino Respighi wrote an early, derivative (although sumptuous) Sinfonia Drammatica but towering figures of Italian music like Goffredo Petrassi and Luigi Dallapiccola did not write symphonies. (Petrassi did compose a very fine – if increasingly unbearable to listen to, I find – series of eight concertos for orchestra). Obviously a guy with a lot of time on his hands.

I invested some years ago in the Marco Polo set of Gian Francesco Malipiero’s eleven numbered symphonies and five other named sinfonias played by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by the late Antonio de Almeida. These are fascinating compositions, rightly acclaimed by the leading Malipiero expert John Waterhouse. Whilst applauding Marco Polo and de Almeida’s enterprise however, I cannot but feel that the performances are not much better than “run-throughs” by the Moscow players. These works need much better performances to reveal their real depth. I would though certainly encourage others to give these symphonies a try! Anyone else know the recordings?

I am also intrigued to hear the single symphony composed by Ildebrando Pizzetti which, I have read, is a fine work. Alfredo Casella wrote two early symphonies (apparently influenced by Mahler) and a third symphony at the beginning of World War II but none of these is currently available – Casella’s music is only slowly beginning to be played much again after his very high pre-war reputation was damaged by his association with Mussolini’s Fascist regime.

CPO did record a couple of symphonies by Franco Alfano – primarily another composer of dull Italian operas – but I would certainly not rate these as masterpieces.

Many do tend to think of Italy – at least before the Berio, Nono, Maderna era – as a country of opera. It is worth taking some time perhaps to explore those composers who also wrote symphonic music.

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